Regular readers know that I’ve shied away from gear reviews the last year or so, since so much of what constitutes EDC is a highly subjective personal choice. However, every once in awhile, a standout deserves a shout out. Enter the Amtac Blades “Northman” knife.
Amtac Blades is the creation of Bill Rapier, owner of Amtac Shooting. The Northman was the first knife offered, although there is now a larger blade available as well. (Rumor has it that a smaller blade is in development as well.) Rapier envisioned the Northman as a “pocket knife” to replace the folder that he carried in his strong side front pocket. (The reader will note that I use Bill’s preferred terminology of “strong side” and “other strong side” throughout this review.) This concept appealed to me, since I have carried some form of tactical folder for all of my adult life and much of my adolescence.
Anybody who has spent any amount of time around serious blade practitioners will recognize the tenet that a folding knife is a broken knife. This hasn’t caused me too much anguish, since for me, a pocket knife is largely a utility item. Nonetheless, I have trained with fixed blades and in fact bought a Headhunter Blades RAT expressly to train with both Rapier and KD4. Having said that, I struggled to carry a fixed blade consistently. First, I found it uncomfortable. Second, the handle of the blade typically printed when worn in an accessible location inside the waistband. Third, I still have some serious concerns about the perceived use of a fixed blade in a self-defense situation. My last concern notwithstanding, I don’t completely discount the concept of a backup weapon in the form of a fixed blade knife.
I’ve had my Northman since early January now, and can honestly say that I’ve carried it nearly every day without difficulty, both in uniform, and in casual clothing. The method in the madness is the excellent sheath that holds the blade. The sheath utilizes a Discreet Carry Concepts clip that seats it deeply in the pocket. Thus, the handle and the sheath clip resemble the typical folding pocket knife to casual observers. Those who know what they are looking at will recognize it for what it is, but in my experience, that is an extremely small subset of the general public. The only ones that have recognized the blade have been other students in shooting classes, and I’ve only seen one other Northman in the wild at a shotgun class, not counting examples at the last two classes that I took with Rapier.
Before I talk about the blade itself, I want to devote a few more words to the sheath. Not only does it sit deeply in the pocket, it also has two other unique features that belie its backcountry and utilitarian design. First, there is a ferro rod built in. Using the backside of the blade, this provides a robust and reliable fire starting method as long as you have both the sheath and the blade on your person. Survival minded people, as well as self-reliant types will appreciate this feature. I know I do when hiking and hunting in the woods. Second, there are Velcro flaps riveted to the backside of the sheath that can be used as a pocket to store money, tinder, a cuff key, or any other small and relatively flat object. To my mind, some form of tinder makes the most sense to carry, but to each their own. (Thanks to an Instagram post by Kevin Estela, I recently learned of Ben’s Backwoods Fire Wicks. These cotton wicks are flat and make excellent tinder to tuck behind the Velcro on the sheath. At the same time, I also ordered some bulk steel ferro rod to practice with from Ben’s Backwoods.)
Finally, the sheath is simply built right. That means that it is ambidextrous and securely retains the blade. The blade is easily inserted into the sheath, and securely clicks into place. Doing this initially caused me some trepidation, given how deeply the sheath sits in the pocket, but so far, so good when indexing the blade on the clip. I also had some initial concerns about whether the blade and sheath would be too long to fit in my front pocket, but much to my relief, it has comfortably fit in just about every type of pants that I wear. Some jeans pockets may be too shallow, but the Carhartt, Mountain Khakis, and TAD jeans that I favor work fine. I have also been able to make it work with the “magazine” pockets behind the hip on the 5.11 jeans, although the hip pockets on those are indeed too shallow, at least in the size that I wear.
The blade itself is 3.5″ long, and the standard version is partially serrated to better cut cordage. Non-serrated and sterile unmarked versions are also available. I have the newer upgraded standard version that has the lighter weight handle with added jimping near the rear, deeper punyo, and sharper spine for striking the ferro rod. From a combative standpoint, the blade is comfortably and securely held in either a forward or reverse grip.
There are two schools of thought on “tactical” knives. One is that you should never cut anything with it, to keep it sharp in case you ever have to use it. The other is that you should use it for everything, so that deploying it and using it is second nature. I am firmly in the second camp, and legitimately pull the knife out just about every day for routine tasks, whether opening mail, breaking down boxes, or slicing food. Thus, I’ve had to sharpen it on occasion. The blade was delivered scarily sharp, and maintains an edge well, but consistent use will dull any sharp implement over time. The design of the blade means that it will still be quite dangerous as a pointy stabbing implement even if the blade isn’t razor sharp. As with any tool that sees regular use, some routine maintenance is to be expected. While I carry and use the knife daily, I will confess that I am somewhat circumspect about where I pull the knife out for routine tasks. That is, I’m less likely to do so in public settings since I prefer to maintain the benign appearance of a simple folding knife clipped in my pocket.
Amtac Blades takes gaining familiarity with the knife a step further and includes a blue training blade with every package. The training blade is also a quality item, fits the sheath, and allows for realistic FoF training. A storage sheath is included to hold the live blade when working with the training blade. Quite frankly, I’ve gotten to the point that I don’t want to carry a knife intended for personal defense if no legitimate training version exists. This has been a sticking point for me regarding my Spyderco Manix 2 that was my previous EDC knife. (Benchmade does have a trainer available for the Griptilian, and that would be my current recommendation for someone looking for a folding EDC knife.)
Rapier advises carrying the blade strong side if it’s a second knife or if you don’t carry a pistol, or on the other strong side if you do carry a pistol, so that you can have a lethal weapon easily accessible by either hand. Since I don’t always have the luxury of carrying a pistol, I have settled on carrying mine strong side all the time. On the few occasions that I experimented with the knife in my other strong side pocket, I actually found that I preferred the sheath in my left hip pocket since this positions the ferro rod against the back seam of the pocket, where it is less obtrusive and less prone to being scraped by other items in my pocket. If I could change one thing about the sheath, it would be that. I would like to be able to order the sheath “set up” for a particular side carry. I have also even tucked the knife in my waistband in the appendix position when it’s my only weapon, such as at the beach in swim trunks. Much like any tool carried that way, it is easily accessible to either hand. I don’t take it into the water, but I’m sure it would be just fine if it were dried and cleaned afterwards. Finally, it’s worth noting that there is also now a belt sheath available for the knife that includes the ferro rod feature.
The deep punyo in the handle is how the knife is easily drawn from a sheath that sits so deeply in the pocket. Rapier advises to reach the thumb deep into the pocket along the handle and to use the little finger hooking under the punyo to draw the knife. This makes the knife quick and easy to draw the blade in a forward grip. The added jimping on the tang of the blade makes this easily accomplished. To sheath the blade, index it against the clip and slowly insert the blade into the sheath until it clicks in place. I have yet to cut my pocket or stab my leg, so this is less problematic than it may initially seem. Just as with a pistol, holster carefully. While it is simple matter to reverse the blade in the sheath to carry it on the other strong side, I have found that I prefer to draw the blade in a reverse grip with my other strong hand. This is more consistent with how I’ve previously trained with a centerline carried fixed blade. Again, hooking a finger under the punyo and pinching the handle between the thumb and index finger makes this an easy proposition.
Needless to say, I’m a fan of the knife and the overall design. If you want one for yourself, I would suggest doing two things. First of all, train with Rapier. Second, wait until his annual Thanksgiving sale. The Northman is an expensive blade, and using the student discount in conjunction with the one day sale price will net you the best deal. Or, if money is no object, they are available now! For the purpose for which it was designed, the Northman is an awesome blade that I can wholeheartedly endorse and recommend. As is my normal practice, other than being a prior student and having access to the student discount and annual sale price, I have no affiliation with either Amtac Shooting or Amtac Blades and paid full price for the knife reviewed above.
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