Review: James Brand’s First Fixed Blade Is A Minimalist Workhorse

Aug 16, 2019

Category: Gear

Run by a group of talented designers and outdoor enthusiasts, The James Brand has built a sterling reputation in a short period of time creating EDC pocket folders for adventure-savvy individuals. They continue to take pride in constructing blades with premium materials and a beautiful, minimalist style that stands the relentless test of time. Minimal everyday carry is their expertise and now they’re bringing that mindset into their very first fixed blade dubbed The James Brand Hell Gap, taking its name from the projectile point arrowhead found in the Great Plains of eastern Wyoming. We were fortunate enough to get our hands on the Hell Gap to analyze every part of the design and put it to the test ahead of its release.

Constructing knives for nearly a decade, The James Brand’s Hell Gap is a representation of all the knowledge this team has gained over many years. This foray into the world of fixed blades is a monumental moment for James Brand, to say the least. The James Brand forged the blade right here in America, which was a decision inspired by tons of requests for an American-made product from their loyal fans. Deviating from their routine manufacturing process, the prominent knife company had the fixed blade built in Idaho. Since fixed blades are usually built to be outdoor tools, the team had to be extra conscientious about every detail and design choice they made in creating the Hell Gap, as it will undoubtedly be relied upon as the go-to blade for plenty of backcountry adventurers. We’ve taken the time to meticulously examine every facet of this blade to determine its overall functionality. Let’s find out just how well the Hell Gap stacks up.

First Impression

Accessories: Although the carrying case isn’t a reflection of the knife quality itself, we found it to be a bit oversized for the blade inside. Although velcro would be faster and more efficient, the snap-button on the case makes it more secure. Also, there is a belt loop on the back of the carrying case so you can keep it close by your side at all times. The blade is protected by a tough mil-spec Kydex sheath with three holes punched out on the edge so you can fasten it to your pack and ditch the case altogether.

Build: Once unsheathed and in our hands, we felt confident in the structure of the Hell Gap knife. Gripping the handle feels natural and the construction of the knife, in general, seems plenty sturdy. It’s as if this wasn’t James Brand’s first rodeo in the fixed blade world. The blade is about 3.5 inches long, which is perfect for a primary outdoor knife, and even though it feels lightweight, the build echoes the quality of the best fixed blades on the market.

Visual Design: The James Brand uses clean design choices for this hardwearing, utilitarian knife. It has a handsome Micarta handle with a field-tested appearance, matching its smooth blade. There’s very subtle branding on the handle in the form of The James Brand logo in a small, silver circle toward the top of the handle to go along with the minimalist look as well. And the comprehensive austere design of the knife gives it a classic aesthetic.

Blade

Built with S35VN steel, the conservative blade is durable and ready to go to work no matter what task you face. CPM steels like S35VN are noteworthy for their toughness and ability to withstand punishment, making it a perfect choice for a fixed blade survival knife. The flat grind drop-point blade has a thick spine, which allows for efficient batoning, and jimping on the back of the blade for improved thumb grip and enhanced cutting pressure. The 3.5-inch blade is ideal for more intricate cutting tasks, such as gutting fish, slicing up roots, and cutting notches in stakes. It also has a curve at the bottom of the blade to rest your index finger instinctively when you’re cutting up a piece of rope.

The style of the blade is simple and sleek, which is appropriate for a minimalist backcountry knife. It has a smooth shape and comes out of the sheath fairly sharp and ready for action. Running from the choil to the belly, the full-length cutting edge of the blade is beneficial for a variety of outdoor tasks. The no-nonsense fixed blade knife also benefits from its full-tang construction, making for a robust tool you can pass down to future generations as a family heirloom. Just remember to care for the blade properly, as S35VN steel can become corroded and discolored. Overall, the blade material and construction both contribute to creating a true workhorse knife.

Handle

Picking up the knife, the Micarta handle feels rugged, which is a necessity out in the rough terrain. The handle thickness is just beefy enough to wrap your hands around comfortably, but never overpowering. Whether you’re holding it in a traditional forward grip for various cutting tasks or a reverse grip for chiseling ice, the handle feels firm and well put together. Lightweight Micarta is extremely tough and naturally smooth, but it’s been textured on this handle, which is common, to ensure a confident grip. The textured grip makes a significant difference when you’re exposed to rain, snow, or river water.

The texturing process of the Micarta elicits a very worn, unique look appropriate for your outdoor loadout. There’s also jimping at the end of the handle for your pinky and ring fingers, providing you with a secure feel when deploying the knife or slicing. Although the jimping details on the knife are small, they do assist you in holding onto the knife when things get dirty, wet, or both. At the end of the handle is a small paracord lanyard for quick access to the tool. And since it’s a full-tang blade, you have the option of unscrewing the Micarta handle to clean it thoroughly or wrap the end of the knife in paracord.

Verdict

With a beautiful Micarta handle for a battle-tested, worn look and a flush drop-point blade, the Hell Gap knife looks like a classic survival tool that’s already been passed down for a couple of generations. However, with its steadfast design and materials ready for the elements, we’d bet on this outdoor companion lasting at least a lifetime or two with proper care.

There may not be anything revolutionary about this blade, but The James Brand built it with the utmost care. Survival knives should be simple, reliable, and ready to execute any task to help you prevail over nature’s obstacles. Under close examination, the Hell Gap certainly feels like it’s constructed to succeed under any condition in the field. It’s much more than just another survival knife, as James Brand has poured a wealth of knowledge into the tool, resulting in one hell of a first go at a fixed blade. We believe it will serve as a reliable outdoor companion for any adventurer looking for a practical knife.

Purchase: $299

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