This new Vulture Equipment Works Cholera is described as an, "all mountain" blade. A knife you can use for everything from making a fire to butchering game. We beat on it everywhere from the beaches of Maui to the forests of British Columbia to find out if that claim is true.
What's It Supposed To Do? "There's not much this profile can't do," states Vulture. "Wanna whittle a stick or butcher an elk? No problem!"
The knife was designed by adventure photographer William Egbert Jr, who spent 15 years with blade designs knocking around his head before sitting down to produce this knife. It attempts to combine the heft of a large fixed-blade survival knife with the control of a small detail blade, all in a bombproof, ergonomically ideal package.
The Cholera stays with current knife design practice as far as its 3/16" thick 1095 carbon steel blade and linen micarta handle scales. As you can see, 1095 will stain and discolour when used outdoors, but we consider it a superior choice to more expensive stainless steels due to its ease of sharpening. Beyond there, William has devised his own unique blade shape and handle design.
How's It Supposed To Do It? "Most type of blades with this type of girth have a tendency to be either tip heavy or butt heavy, making hand balance a bit awkward," William tells us. And the Cholera is perfectly balanced. "The next most important thing is the slope of the belly to the tip. With slight variations a designer is able to make an edge track better when at odd angles. If you take a stick and want to just remove a thin layer of the skin, you are able to use just the forward portion of the belly. This allows very delicate work to be accomplished with such a thick blade. Additionally, the handle is really the backbone of the entire design. I spent a lot of time getting the angle of the blade to the angle of the handle just so. I also had to make sure the handle fit in most people's hands and allowed them to get all their fingers around the handle and thus make a fist. By getting all your fingers around the blade and being able to close your hand you can transfer all the effective energy from your arm, forearm, wrist and hand into the cutting edge of the blade making for a truly powerful cutter."
The blade itself uses a modified Scandi grind. Scandi is a great choice for bushcraft blades, being strong, easy to sharpen and delivering decent slicing ability. The Cholera is modified with a further, sharpened edge at 20 degrees per side. This makes it easy to maintain on a traditional stone or grinding wheel, but works perfectly on my Spyderco Sharpmaker. Using that, you can bring the knife back to its razor sharpness in just a few minutes.
Did I mention this is the single sharpest blade I've ever experienced, out of the box? William personally inspects each knife before it's shipped.
Controversially, the Cholera's blade features a 90 per cent sharpened false edge on top of its tip. This aids its ability to pierce and drill, and gives you an additional surface from which to scrape, spark a fire steel or perform other perpendicular tasks that would otherwise dull the blade's primary edge. The fear is, it could reduce the useful area for striking the blade with a baton.
Then there's the sheath. Unlike most other blades at a sub-$US200 price point, the Cholera ships with a nice, taco-style Kydex sheath which retains the blade strongly and with minimal weight. That's equipped with a Molle-compatible clip that rotates, allowing both multiple angles of carry and scooting the sheath inline with your hand when you're pulling the blade out or returning it.
Included in the sheath is a Kydex pocket for Vulture's own hybrid ferro and magnesium fire starter. The single, small diameter ferro gives you the ability to produce sparks, while the two magnesium rods create an ideal material to catch that spark and generate a hot flame. Genius, and including it so seamlessly on the sheath is a nice additional element of usefulness.
How Does It Perform? I used the knife on the beach in Hana, opening coconuts, slicing pineapples and processing driftwood for a fire. http://indefinitelywild.gizmodo.com/how-to-live-of...
It obviously can't make the short work of a coconut husk that a machete can -- the 14cm blade is not a chopper. But, holding it with the blade pointing downwards, facing towards my body in the manner employed by butchers, I was able to quickly and easily hack my way through the coconut's tricky armour. The fine point also drilled holes in the coconut shell with ease, meaning we were able to drink its water before opening the coconut fully to eat its meat.
The Cholera is a very thick knife, but slices like a small one, creating nice, clean pineapple slices for our campfire-cooked hamburgers.
That fire was more difficult than usual to build. The Cholera just isn't quite long enough to baton larger pieces of wood. I was surprised to find that the false edge didn't get in the way of batoning, in actual fact it "catches" the baton well, delivering the full force of the strike to the wood being split rather than allowing the baton to slip off the knife's tip. It's thickness and grind seem to work against easy wood splitting though.
I was building fires in difficult, damp conditions without my usual cotton ball/Vaseline fire starters, so the magnesium/ferro combination really came in handy. Creating a small pile of magnesium shavings, then directing a spark into it meant I was able to use the fine wood shavings I'd used the knife to make to get a fire going with ease. At least the first night, when it wasn't raining. http://indefinitelywild.gizmodo.com/ferries-bears-...
I also used the knife in British Columbia. There, its surprising slicing ability and control were highlighted. I'd planned on using it again to make fires, but the wood there was so dry and plentiful that all you needed to do was hold a lighter to a log to get one going. Instead, it stood in for forgotten food knives, slicing dried salmon, cheese, steaks and even fruit with ease. Not the manliest use ever, but it highlights the Cholera's versatility, knives this long and thick aren't typically able to perform food prep with anything approaching delicacy, this one can.
And the handle stands up to William's claims. It might look small, but it fits perfectly in your hand between the base of the fingers and crease of the palm, allowing multiple grips. Compared to the larger handles I'm used to, being able to close my fist fully around the Cholera, while holding my thumb in the same location I'd put it to throw a punch really did prove to provide a surprising amount of power. Very little stands up to the knife's cutting power when held like this.
Esee-6 (top) and Vulture Equipment Works Cholera (bottom). Mini Bic lighter for size.
How Does It Compare To Competitors? My much-loved Esee-6 is a similar 1095/linen micarta design. It's a bit longer which, combined with its flat grind, makes it a substantially better tool for batoning and other wood processing tasks. But, it offers nothing like the fine control exhibited by the Cholera. Where the Esee is primarily a fire-making tool, the Cholera can also be used to make dinner, whittle sticks and butcher meat.
The Esee is more affordable at $US113, but ships with a cheaper, moulded plastic sheath an doesn't include the ferro/magnesium rod.
Vulture's more ergonomic handle is also clearly superior, allowing not only multiple grips, but giving you the ability to transfer more force to the blade.
The rotating Molle clip allows some degree of pivot as you draw or replace the knife. User friendly, but mounted too low on the sheath for seamless belt carry.
One final point to the Esee though, its plastic sheath allows a more diverse range of carry setups than Vulture's kydex item. That rotating clip is user friendly, but it won't retain the blade in scout carry (horizontal, across your lower back) and is mounted quite low in comparison to the handle. The multiple holes on the Esee sheath allow you to lash it in any configuration you desire using paracord while the clip plate carries the knife's pommel flush with the top of your belt. The Cholera protrudes three or four inches above it, creating a potential for injury should you fall.
Adventure Ready? Sure is. The $US190 Cholera is the closest thing to an all-purpose outdoors blade I've found, handling both large and small tasks with equal aplomb. While it can't process wood as well as a larger knife, it is more easily carried and more versatile. Where I have been carrying one large knife for fire making and a smaller one for making food and eating, I can now carry a single blade. 1095 is an acquired taste though; as you can see, it will stain and rust with heavy use, but it does also combine strong edge retention with total ease of sharpening. This is a knife designed for hard use, not looking shiny in a display case.
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Top photo: Scott Rankin