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Bargain or Just Cheap? – Steel Will Cutjack C22M

Welcome to Bargain or Just Cheap? This series will review budget friendly knives for a variety of uses in a short format. All of the knives will cost less than $50 (in most cases, much less) and will be purchased out of my own pocket. I’ll buy them, carry them, and use them in an attempt to determine if the knife is a bargain or just cheap.


I have already reviewed the Steel Will Modus in a past installment of Bargain or Just Cheap?. That knife is one that started to change what I expected from an affordable Chinese knife. As good as the Modus is in terms of a stylish EDC knife, the Cutjack is better. If the Modus is a great knife, the Cutjack is verging on “classic” status.

Steel Will offers the Cutjack in two sizes – the 3″ bladed C22M and the 3.5″ bladed C22. Like the Modus, they also offer it in a more upscale model with upgraded materials and blade steel. This review will be confined to the more budget oriented C22 and C22M models both of which features excellent textured FRN scales and a D2 steel blade.

The blade is a flat ground, drop point design with a flipper tab that acts as a guard and a large choil meant for chocking up. That large choil is a big part of the magic of this knife because it is actually very comfortable to use. The handle design works very well with the choil which means that the knife can feel very compact when folded but offer a handle that feels very roomy when opened. Couple that small-in-pocket-but-big-in-hand design with a very slicey blade grind, pocket-friendly scales, and a 3 ounce weight… You are approaching EDC perfection.

Steel Will’s liner locks are excellent in my experience. They lock up fully but early enough that you will get years and years of use out of them. They also do great work with flippers on phosphor bronze washers. The detent also seems to be perfectly tuned for great flipping action without the need for bearings. The action on these knives also punches well above their weight class. It locks up strong and flips well.

I think the cheaper and smaller C22M is the pick of the litter unless you need the extra size of the C22. The C22M, being smaller, really optimizes the advantages of this design.

Bargain or Just Cheap?

The Steel Will Cutjack is an incredible knife. It is a bargain at $60, let alone the $38ish you’ll actually pay. The Cutjack is lightweight, deploys smoother than many flippers costing significantly more, and offers a lot of cutting performance in a compact package.

I am using Amazon as the price baseline for this series. All knives were purchased by me from Amazon: Steel Will Cutjack Series


Our goal is to represent knives for a variety of uses from EDC, to outdoor, to tactical knives. Do you have a favorite affordable knife? Let us know about it in the comments!

The above article contains affiliate links.

Review: Resolute Tools X-1

Resolute Tools is a new company that seeks to bring the aerospace design and manufacturing experience of Resolute Aerospace to EDC tools. That begs the question… what happens when aerospace meets EDC? Intricate machining, function-first design, and material science happen. The X-1 happens.

Overview

The X-1 is a retractable EDC utility knife with a Grade 5 Titanium (6Al-4V) housing with an aluminum-bronze blade slider. It makes use of standard disposable utility blades and offers tool-less blade replacement. It weighs in at just .445 ounce with a blade and is only .125″ thick.

Observations from Use

Have you ever held something in your hand and you could just feel that it was something that was very, very fine? That is the impression that the X-1 gives when you hold it. It feels like something you should be proud to own – like something special.

Minimalism is fine but it seems like Resolute Tools really only looked at minimalism as a starting point. Then, they set about stripping away every extra sliver of material or pretense until they had something beyond minimalist. There are only two monolithic parts (three if you count the blade) which themselves have been reduced to their most simple, lightweight forms.

The attention to detail goes deeper than just the design and extends into the materials. The 6Al-4V titanium material for the housing was chosen for its elastic properties making it well suited for use as an integral spring to tension the detent on the slider. The slider itself makes use of an aluminum bronze bearing alloy that has a low coefficient of friction. It feels almost oily (in a good way) as it slides within the titanium housing.

That minimalism does come at a price. Many similar EDC utility knives have a larger blade carrier that slides inside a much larger housing. This serves to prevent the blade from rubbing on the housing. The X-1 has a much more minimal blade carrier and, unfortunately, it allows the blade to rub against the housing to some extent which will prematurely dull the blade. When I pointed out the dulling issue, Resolute Tools told me this was an intentional design decision to keep the X-1 as small as possible while still retaining the functionality necessary to cut tape on Amazon boxes or other EDC tasks. They also tell me that carbide utility blades will resist dulling better than the typical carbon steel blades. I can confirm that while some dulling does happen pretty much immediately, a working edge capable of opening packages and the like is retained for quite a while.

I would like to describe the experience of carrying the X-1 but there is really nothing to describe. It’s like carrying nothing at all. It’s so thin and so light that you’ll never know its in your pocket. I like carrying it in my jeans coin pocket. The clip is integral to the housing and well designed. It retains the X-1 well and slides onto the pocket easily. It is a joy to carry.

Using the X-1 is just as nice as carrying it. It rests in the hand easily. It opens and closes easily with a satisfying detent action when the blade carrier reaches its limits. You can feel solid stops at both ends of the blade’s travel with a gentle thud as the blade carrier detent drops into place. Every corner is broken to make it feel soft in the hand. Like I said earlier, it feels like something special.

Wrap Up

If the X-1 is what Resolute Tools comes up with for their first entry into the EDC tools market, I can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.

The Resolute X-1 is in its final days on Kickstarter. It on pace to exceed 5 times it’s original funding goal and Resolute Tools is already making them. You can find out more at their campaign page: Resolute X-1 on Kickstarter

Review: Motorola T800 and T801 Talkabout Radios

FRS radio communications can’t be private… can they?

The rechargeable battery packs in some of my older FRS radios gave up the ghost recently so it seemed like a good time to update. FRS radios haven’t seen much innovation in the last several years so I was surprised to come across the Motorola T800 and T801 Talkabout radios with a feature set that is actually quite innovative and very useful.

These radios can be paired with a smartphone to serve as a sort of off-grid, FRS based modem for sending text messages and other info. So… do they work? The short answer is yes, but they come with all the shortcomings of FRS radios with which you are likely already familiar.

Overview

The T800 and T801 radios are identical except for color and the T801 radios come with some additional accessories. These are fairly typical FRS radios with 22 channels and 121 privacy codes. They feature access to NOAA weather radio and ca be configured to give weather alerts. They come with a rechargeable NiMH battery pack but can also be powered from 3 AA batteries. Per the FCC listing, these radios output 750mW (FRS max is 2W but power makes almost no difference with these radios for a variety of reasons).

The housings are weather resistant but not submersible. The quality is typical Motorola which is to say it is quite good. They feel sturdy.

Finally, the feature that sets these apart is Bluetooth connectivity. This is used to pair the radios with your phone in order to integrate with Motorola’s free Talkabout app which contains the connected functionality. It is not used for wireless headsets or anything along those lines.

Observations from Use

As FRS radios go… these are typical. If you have ever used FRS radios before, you are familiar with their limitations. Radio manufacturers often claim ranges of 30+ miles but that rarely (if ever) works out in the real world. I tested these around my home which consists of low hills, lots of timber, and few structures. These are hardly ideal conditions but they are a good test. My testing consisted of placing one radio inside my home with my wife while I walked around our area and attempted to contact her along with general usage on our acreage.

I was able to have reliable voice connections regardless of conditions within a 1/2 mile. At 3/4 a mile, voice calls were generally fine but I could put myself in positions where I was too low or there was too much timber to make contact. Generally, I could make contact easily out to 1 1/2 or 2 miles as long as I was intentional about my positioning. This is fairly typical of any decent quality FRS radio that I have tried.

In my experience, the connected features of these radios work well with one very annoying caveat. Before I get into that, I’ll outline a little about how these features work. The radios may be paired with a smartphone via Bluetooth. Once connected, they may be used in conjunction with Motorola’s free Talkabout app to send individual or group texts and share locations via maps as long. All of the connected features are handled via the app with the radios acting as a sort of modem.

Each user is registered to the app which adds a useful layer of privacy that is lacking with FRS voice communications. You can send texts to a specific radio user or blast them out to anyone who may be in range. This privacy is perhaps the best feature of these radios.

The data range is shorter than the voice range. I was able to send texts from almost 1 1/2 miles but I also had texts that failed to send at 3/4 mile. Like voice communications, it will be heavily dependant on your conditions but is generally reliable within a 1/2 mile.

Now for the annoying caveat: You can turn off any and all tones on these radio for silent operation… except for one. Whenever the radio connects to or disconnects from Bluetooth, there is a fairly loud tone. It can not be turned off which is unfortunate because, like many Bluetooth devices, these can and will drop their connection at inopportune times. Sometimes just having your phone on one side of your body and the radio on the other is enough to interrupt the Bluetooth connection resulting in a surprise tone. This is obviously not ideal for hunting or home security applications but it can be mitigated by turning off Bluetooth or only using it intentionally. Using an earpiece may also eliminate the tone, at the external speaker at least, but I have been unable to test this.

Wrap Up

FRS radios are, in my view, the foundation of almost any emergency communication plan. They do not require a license to operate and, chances are, your neighbors already have some compatible radios. They are not without limitations but they are the first rung in the ladder.

The Motorola T800 and T801 are solid, typical FRS radios with the useful addition of off-grid text messaging and location sharing. They expand your communication options in a useful way when you are out of range of a cell tower or in emergencies. Perhaps most importantly, they add a method of communication that is more private than voice communications over FRS frequencies.

I purchased 4 of the T801 Talkabouts from Amazon for my own use. If you are interested, you can check them out at Amazon.com (affiliate links to follow):

Motorola T800 on Amazon

Motorola T801 on Amazon

Review: Simple Theory Gear Pack Stove

I like twig stoves for backpacking and, in spite of trying several, I’ve mostly stuck with the same one for years – long enough to be intimately familiar with everything I dislike about my particular twig stove. Along came Simple Theory Gear with a stove, The Pack Stove, that seemed to address every single issue I was having with my tabbed construction, flat pack style stove. I am going to spoil this review right here in the first paragraph… The Pack Stove isn’t perfect but it is as close to it as I have found. It’s really, really good.

Overview

The Pack Stove is a twig stove (or bio stove) with a cylindrical shape. It’s is made from 304 stainless steel that is significantly thicker than the steel found on most twig stoves. In spite of that thicker steel, it still weighs in at 11.8 ounces which is similar or even less than many steel flat pack or hinged stoves.

The design is the real story here. Instead of packing flat, the Pack Stove is designed to nest. It nests on water bottles with a similar diameter to the standard 32 ounce Nalgene. It only has one loose part, the top grate, which can be stowed on the stove itself.

These are the only two parts of The Pack Stove.

Observations from Use

Background with Twig Stoves – In order to appreciate The Pack Stove, I think you probably need a background with other twig stoves. Most twig stoves on the market are box-shaped and fall into two categories: those that assemble with tabs/slots and those that are hinged.

Both of these types of stoves require assembly in some form. Hinged stoves are easier to work with but are not without their issues thanks to the warping that seems to come standard with any thin metal box that holds a fire. Basically, they all require fiddling, especially when it comes to their grates which are often some sort of cross-member design.

Little to No Fiddle Factor – The fiddle factor for flat-pack style twig stoves is made more annoying by their tendency to warp and the fact that there is no way to disassemble them without leaving your hands looking like you just swept your chimney. Almost any twig stove on the market will work but the fiddle-factor is what is most likely to turn you off.

The Pack Stove does away with almost all fiddle factor. In fact, it is really no more fiddly than something like a canister stove. There are no hinges, tabs, slots, or cross members. You simply take the one-piece grate off the bottom of the stove where it is stowed, attach it to or rest it on the top and start burning. Then, when it is time to put it away, you can quench the entire stove with water or snow without fear of excessive warping and be on your way. The ability to quench the stove without worry is a key feature.

My stove came with a burlap stuff sack but current production stoves will have a new stuff sack.

Little to No Warping – Warping is extremely common in most flat pack twig stoves. To be fair, it is mostly an inconvenience that makes assembly/disassembly a pain but not a real deal-breaker. The Pack Stove, however, seems to be HIGHLY resistant to warping thanks to its thicker steel stock and stong cylinder shape. The only parts I have warped even slightly are the grate retainer tabs on the top and these are designed to be easily fixed using the grate itself as a key to space them. The bottom line is that warping, even if quenched with water or in snow, is not an issue.

Strong Burner – All twig stoves are somewhat sensitive to airflow. If you have used one, you’ve noticed the extra smoke that is created when the stove starts to choke a bit. Some stoves will start to choke when the coal/ash bed is too deep. Some start to choke with large diameter pots or pans that cover too much of their upper vents.

The Pack Stove with its numerous side ports, raised and ventilated bottom plate, and an air gap at the top seems to breathe well in all the conditions that I tried. It does especially well at holding a coal bed. It burns remarkably well in spite of the more compact firebox than what I am used to.

Versatility – This stove is versatile. It works well in its intended function, burning twigs, but it is also designed to work well as a windscreen and pot stand for alcohol stoves. To use The Pack Stove with a spirit burner, just turn it upside down and place it over your burner. This shields the burner from wind (though you may need additional shielding on really windy days) and creates nearly perfect head spacing for the jets when used with a Trangia (or similar). This is a nice feature for those who may spend time above treeline or other places where wood can be scarce.

Simple Theory Gear has mentioned the possibility of a titanium version of this stove sometime in the future. If they do manage to bring that to market, I could see people who use alcohol stoves as their primary cooking method carrying The Pack Stove as their pot stand/windscreen just to have the emergency redundancy of being able to use it as a twig stove should they run out of fuel.

The Pack Stove works well as a windscreen and pot stand for Trangia and similar spirit burners/alcohol stoves.

Details – There are a few other details of The Pack Stove that I appreciate. The way the grate stows on the bottom of the stove creates a chamber that can be used to stow fire-starting materials like birch bark for your next burn.

I also appreciate the synergy that this stove has with the Stanley Adventure Camp Cook Set which I have previously reviewed. They can be nested together and the pot is basically the perfect size for use with this stove. The narrow shape seems to be optimized for this stove, allowing for plenty of air to get to the fire and seeming to have all the heat focused directly into it. This is no accident. While The Pack Stove will work with just about any cook pot you can safely balance on it, the designer is also a fan of the Stanley Adventure Camp Cook Set.

I can’t say enough about the nesting aspect of The Pack Stove’s design. Flat pack twig stoves are nice in that they, well… pack flat. However, they still have to be stowed somewhere in your pack. In a sense, The Pack Stove takes up ZERO additional space in your pack because it shares a spot that was already occupied by a water bottle.

Not Quite Perfect – The review has been rightly glowing so far but I don’t want to give the idea that The Pack Stove is perfect. There are some things that I would change about it. For instance, I don’t see why the grate has to be “locked” on the top. This is perhaps the only fiddly part of working with the stove and the locking slots are really the only part of the stove that you might wrap. I would like to see simple indexing depressions that the grate could rest in so it could be lifted off easily but wouldn’t slide around.

I also think the feed port could be larger or at least flared toward the top where is more space between ents to allow for easier feeding and the use of larger wood chunks while the pot is in place. It is very workable now but a little more space to feed and position twigs might be nice.

Finally, given that The Pack Stove nests on a water bottle or the Stanley Adventure Camp Cook Set so well, it would be nice if the included stuff sack was tall enough to accommodate those items in addition to the stove. The included sack is made of burlap and is a bit of a tight fit. I could just leave it at home but I find that it makes a handy place to rest twigs off the snow. Simple Theory Gear does have a new stuff sack that might already address this.

Add a bit of scouring pad to cut down on the metal-on-metal rattle. It’s handy for cleaning and maintenance too.

Pro Tips – If you have never used a twig stove, here are some tips that probably hold true for most stoves but work especially well with The Pack Stove. First, carry pliers or some other way of handling hot items – a multitool works fine. It will make your life a lot easier when you need to handle a hot stove.

Second, carry a bit of scouring pad wedged in between the stove and your nested water bottle or pot. It will reduce the rattling a bit and it can be used to clean up your pot, inside and out. It is also handy for cleaning rust off tools like hatchets and knives in cold or wet weather.

Third, fold a few layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil into a square and place your stove on it while you burn. It can help keep the stove level on snow, serve as a catch for ashes and coals, and it will help reflect heat back up into your pot. Foil can also be used to make other handy items like a cup or hot pad in a pinch.

Finally, you can start cooking on these twig stoves pretty much as soon as the fire is going. However, if you want a more maintenance-free, less finicky burn, give the stove a few minutes to build up a coal base before placing your pot on top.

Wrap Up

If you are like me and you already like twig stoves, you probably took one look at The Pack Stove and saw the potential. If you have thought about trying a twig stove, just start here. The bottom line is that it is much easier to live with and use than other stoves. The Pack Stove is one smart twig stove.

SimpleTheoryGear.com

Disclosure: The Pack Stove was provided to me by Simple Theory Gear, free of charge, for the purposes of this review.

Review: Stanley Adventure Camp Cook Set

Sometimes, you get what you pay for. Sometimes, you get a lot more than you paid for. The latter is certainly the case with the Stanley Adventure Camp Cook Set. I’ve owned this cook set for years and I’ve been using it a lot lately with my new Simple Theory Gear Pack Stove which has reminded me of how much I like it.

This cook set has so many thoughtful features that this review could end up being entirely too long so I will try to hit the highlights in outline form.

Price and Availability – The price is impressive at a glance and it only gets more impressive as you read on. This cook set costs $15 and includes the pot with locking handle (locks open and closed to retain the lid), a lid, and two insulated plastic cups that nest inside the pot. Not only that, but you can get it locally at Wal-Mart or online on Amazon (Prime). It doesn’t get much more affordable or available than that.

Form – Initially, I thought I might dislike the tall, narrow shape of the Adventure Camp Cook Set. Wider pots are usually going to perform better than narrower pots for tasks like melting snow for water. However, I’ve come to appreciate the shape and size over time. It is easy to pack. It is the right diameter for use with most nesting cups (the type that will nest on a 32 ounce Nalgene or similar bottle) and its lid can be shared with said nesting cups. It is still wide enough to fit small canister stove fuel canisters inside yet narrow enough to fit in your pack’s water bottle pockets. Basically, the size and shape are just right.

Details – This cook set is packed with thoughtful details. The handle is long enough that it stays well away from the flame which keeps it cool. The handle also locks over the lid which keeps anything you carry in the pot from spilling out which is handy because this will fit in exterior water bottle pockets of many packs.

The pot has useful graduation markings. Even the included 10 ounce cups have an 8 ounce/1 cup marking which any camp cook will find useful!

The lid can be used with any common 95mm/3.75 inch diameter nesting cup or small pot. If you want to save some weight, the lid can be swapped with lighter weight titanium or aluminum lids available for this common size. Heck, you might even have one already. The bottom of the pot tapers so you can nest a cup on it which can make for a great and compact two pot set up.

Stainless Steel and Weight – The pot is made from stainless steel so it isn’t as light as aluminum or titanium. However, it is still relatively lightweight at just under 14 ounces for the whole set. The pot alone weighs just under 8 ounces. Each cup weighs about 3 ounces so removing one or both of those saves significant weight but they are actually really nice cups/bowls. The cups are actually nice enough that I use them at home sometimes and have a hard time not bringing at least one.

8-14 ounces depending on configuration isn’t that heavy especially when you consider how well a steel pot transfers heat and how easy it is to care for in the field compared to other metals. This is the kind of pot that you can put directly on a campfire or twig stove without concern. Just scour it quickly with a Scotch-Brite pad or a wad of dried ferns and move on.

Wrap Up

This pot has the kind of details that you really want in a cook set but, surprisingly, many of these details are lacking in much more expensive pots. It even has some details that are just really unexpected but cool. This would be a great deal at twice the price.

As I mentioned above, you can find these in just about any Wal-Mart outdoor section for $15. If you need an even easier way to add one to your kit, Amazon has them for the same price with Prime shipping (affiliate link): Stanley Adventure Camp Cook Set on Amazon

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