Monday, October 29, 2018

The Ka-Bar Tac Tool: way overpriced for what it offers

In a great many markets for self-defense, security, do-it-yourself, "tacticool" and similar products, there's a high volume of hype and exaggeration in advertising.  Most of it is completely without foundation.  It's meant to appeal to the "boys and their toys" market, where (sadly) many men can be seduced into buying something because it's the latest and greatest and "coolest" thing out there.  Whether or not it's worth its asking price is seldom asked.  We looked at earlier manifestations of this in 2014, in terms of wilderness and survival tools and knives, and also last August, when we examined two wrecking tools from the same manufacturer.  The "tactical" label on one was apparently sufficient justification to charge 145% more for it than its almost identical "non-tactical" equivalent.

I was reminded of this issue when I read the most recent article on Commander Zero's blog.  He's a very knowledgeable man in the field of survival gear and procedures, and I've learned a lot from him.  However, in this specific case, I'm going to respectfully disagree with him, on the grounds of value for money and return on investment.

Commander Zero writes in praise of the KA-BAR 200038 BK3 Becker Tac Tool.

Among other things, he says:

It’s really just a sharpened crowbar with a handle. I have it expressly for the purpose of cutting, chipping, prying, hacking, hammering my way out of or through whatever is between me and safety. Prying open doors, busting windows out of frames, hinge pins out of doors, and all that sort of thing. I have a more ‘regular’ knife or two in my bag as well, but this is the big kahuna for when something needs to be destroyed.

That's all well and good:  but the lowest price I've been able to find for this tool (on is $97.98.  For almost a hundred bucks, it had better be head and shoulders above its competitors . . . but it's not.  There are very viable alternatives available for far less money.  They may look less menacing or less "tacticool", but they're every bit as effective - in some cases, much more so.  For example, here are a few options in ascending order of price (also on, and also with free Prime shipping, for ease of head-to-head comparison with the Ka-Bar tool - all prices correct at the time of writing):

  • A Stanley STHT55134 FUBAR Demolition Bar, which offers more options than the Ka-Bar tool in a slightly larger and heavier package, is just $17.99.

    I can buy five of them for the price of one Ka-Bar Tac Tool, and have change left over.

  • The Off Grid Tools Survival Axe combines a useful hatchet, hammer, claw, pry bar, hex sockets and a 6" saw in a compact package for just $32.88.

    I can buy three of them for the price of a single Ka-Bar tool, and have greater functionality into the bargain.

  • The Dead On Tools 14-inch AN14 Annihilator Wrecking Bar is only slightly larger and heavier, offers a few different options, and is priced at $39.99.

    I can buy two of them for the price of one Ka-Bar, and have almost twenty dollars left in my pocket.

  • The Trucker's Friend from Off Grid Tools combines a useful axe, a hammer and a pry bar into a single tool.

    It's larger and heavier than their Survival Axe (see above), and a lot more versatile than the Ka-Bar, but is still priced at just $49.55.  I could buy two of them for just 1.1% more than a single example of the latter.

Any of these tools would give me similar (in some cases far better) functionality to/than the Ka-Bar Tac Tool, at a considerable saving in money.  The Ka-Bar is neither fish nor fowl.  It's too big and heavy to be a convenient, carry-anywhere knife, but it's too small and doesn't offer enough options to be an optimum wrecking tool.  I don't deny its versatility, and I'm sure that in an emergency, it can and will do everything its manufacturers claim.  However, I object to it being priced at a premium, while offering less versatility and overall usefulness than many competing products costing far less.

For my money, I'll buy a Stanley STHT55134 for less than a fifth of the price of the Ka-Bar.  It'll do anything the latter will.  If I need to carry it on my belt, I can either just slide it between belt and trousers - the rear "lip" will hold it in place - or make a belt loop or sheath from nylon webbing, Kydex, a flattened piece of PVC plumbing pipe, or even a plastic one-gallon water or milk jug.  (You'll find lots of "how-to" videos on YouTube.)  If I want to tackle bigger, heavier jobs, I'll add the Trucker's Friend.  The two together will cost me only about two-thirds the price of a single Tac Tool.

As for knives, I've got plenty of them.  I don't need a sharpened pry-bar for cutting (although I think the Stanley will do as well as the Tac Tool for that purpose, if necessary).  I'll have a folding knife in my pocket for small jobs.  For heavier work, there'll be a trusty (and reasonably priced) Mora or Glock knife in my rucksack or on my belt.  If something bigger and stronger is needed, I'll turn to a low-cost machete or (a personal favorite) the Kershaw camp knife (I find the 10" version to be very tough and versatile).  All those choices are far cheaper (and many are lighter and more portable) than the Tac Tool.

"You pays your money and you takes your choice", as the old saying reminds us.  I'm sorry, but I regard the Tac Tool as ridiculously overpriced.  If they reduce it to about $20-$25, I'll take another look;  but until then, there are far more cost-effective options out there.

I'm grateful to Commander Zero for writing his review of the Tac Tool, even though I disagree with his conclusion.  Who knows?  If a few of us can get a dialog going, where we each discuss tools (and categories of tools) where we have enough knowledge to speak with some authority, and can therefore help to sort out the wheat from the chaff, perhaps all of us can benefit - and our readers, too.



Aesop said...

1) None of the tools you show have as much brush chopping blade area.
2) Two of them have far less blade for the same size, and one has none at all, while the last is relatively ginormous for a lot less cutting edge, and has a handle whose lifespan I suspect would be measured in hours of use, not years.

The ones you've listed have some obvious utility, but you're dong an apples-to-oranges comparison there.

If you want to go about this transparently, lay out any list of 3-10 tasks, and compare and rate (1-10, awful-bad-ok-good-great, or whatever) how each tool will handle them.
Then you'll be onto something.

Take those overall ratings, and compare them to price, and you'll be gold.

Maybe the Becker comes out ahead, maybe not, but pointing out that the C-130 is a lousy helicopter, or that the long-range marksmanship of a S&W Bodyguard sucks compared to the SKS, despite three times the price, isn't quite cricket, now is it?

The Becker is a chopping/hacking/prying tool for jungle/brush or light woodworking, as well as doing things like opening crates, cutting metal and non-metal banding, and if needs be, carving up decent game-getting snares, tent pegs, etc.

Owning that and several other BK&T items, the price seems to be a function of quality for a product not made in China, nor out of recast pot metal.

I've put together $20 survival kits from WallyMart, HorrorFreight, and the 99¢. They would work, but they are what they are. Something always beats nothing, but something Gucci, or even Craftsman, is always a better choice than the Shanjin #14 Tool Foundry, despite the price, because it'll work at least twice, generally speaking.

The BK-3 is a "buy once, cry once" item.

Time was I could buy 6-8 SKS rifles for the cost of one Rem M700V.
Each has their forte, but neither is "better" than the other, just better at different things.
The Remington was miles ahead of the Chinese SKS clones in terms of accuracy, range, and overall quality.
The SKS clones would be just the thing to cosmoline, bury in half a dozen places, and expect to be fully functional in 40 years with a bit of clean-up. And with twice the round capacity and much faster follow-up shots. So what are you using each for?
Deer and pig hunting?
Long-range marksmanship?
A truck gun?
Those answers will tell you which would be a better value.
Price is secondary.
Just like with the knives Zero and you have brought up.

But being cheaper isn't always the only consideration, nor even the first one, though clearly it is more so for you than for him, or me.
That's a chocolate vs vanilla argument, not a good vs. evil argument; there's room for preferences in the mix. As long as those are stated, all well and good. I'll listen to movie reviewers from good reviewers I disagree with, because even though our tastes differ enormously, they do a review that still enables me to determine if I would like a movie. The same goes for cars or guns or tools or toys.

And I daresay, the environment in central/western MT, where Zero will use his, is a bit different than the central TX environment where you'd be working whatever you chose. And neither is exactly mine in CA anywhere from beach to desert to mountains to chapparal, depending solely on which direction I face and travel for 20 minutes.

Let me know if I got any of that wrong, but if not, then I'd suggest that a tad more variance is in play.

Aesop said...

One obvious thing:
A $35 Craftsman half-hatchet with hammerhead back is miles ahead of the "Trucker's Friend", with the added bonus that the handle and head will still be connected after regular use for months to years with the Craftsman product for chopping anything serious. (But it doesn't pry or carve or hack through underbrush and foliage for crap).

But lacking that, let's put you in a campsite you weren't planning on being in (blizzard, plane crash, breakdown on a logging road in BFE/ got lost hunting, etc.) and needing to process a pile of deadwood into campfire-size kindling, with a storm coming in/temperature dropping for the night.

With each of your choices, and the BK&T-3.
An hour later, and two hours later, tell me:
1) How much downed timber into kindling could you have processed with each
2) Which of those tools would still be functional
3) What your hands would look like after that test

Peter said...

@Aesop: I hear you, but I think we're getting away from the point. Zero said specifically:

"I have it expressly for the purpose of cutting, chipping, prying, hacking, hammering my way out of or through whatever is between me and safety. Prying open doors, busting windows out of frames, hinge pins out of doors, and all that sort of thing. I have a more ‘regular’ knife or two in my bag as well, but this is the big kahuna for when something needs to be destroyed."

For that purpose, I suggest that the alternatives I mentioned will probably do as good, or a better, job. You've added a camping/survival test that wasn't in Zero's initial outline of why he kept the Ka-Bar Tac Tool on hand. I agree, under other circumstances, a wrecking tool or pry bar will be less useful than the Tac Tool: but this review didn't look at such circumstances. It tried to address one specific scenario.

Old NFO said...

And the fight started... LOL

Aesop said...

No fight, mon ami.

As I said, this is a chocolate/vanilla taste test, not a good/evil absolutism experiment.

And for Peter's gracious reply,
Fair enough, but cutting was the first thing he mentioned. Even weighting the intention for entry/egress, that overlooks other obvious utilities of the implement in question, and size is also a consideration.
Sometimes bigger is better, but not when putting it in a truck bag or backpack.
But that little hand hatchet is comparatively pretty useless for most of the purposes described. The prybars are definitely more useful for some of them, but lack much or any cutting ability.

You fixated on price.
It's clearly a bit more complicated than just that, right?
That's all I'm suggesting.

We've got Zero's five uses.
You've added cost.
I add durability and ergonomics, as well as backup woodcrafting.

We're well on the way to fleshing out a proper comparison matrix, exactly as you suggested in your OP.
Maybe OldNFO will throw in one we all forgot, and then it's a poker game. :)
Or, with a good query letter, a multi-perspective magazine product review.
(I've been led to believe there's some writing talent in the room.) ;)

Beans said...

But... The well-equipped bushwhacker/survivalist may want the Buck super-competition chopper thingy as a backup to an already existing Bowie knife, or dive knife, or short machete, or a gladius, or, or, or.

Yeah, it looks cool. And if I had to have a one-knife only for "Naked and Afraid," well, I might consider the Buck-o-Matic. But I'd probably go with some sort of roofing hatchet took just because a small axe is so much better at making tools to do all the prying, bashing, sticky-pointy stuff than some tanto/bowie mutant.


I've got two really nice SOG tomahawks. I find them almost as useful and potentially deadly as the old Stanley roofing hatchet (the one used for shaping cedar shingles, prying up nails using the nail-pryer thingy on the bottom of the blade, or hammering in nails using the hammerhead on the back of the blade.) Have I, uh, tried the 'hawks and the hatchet-thingy for utility? Yep. The roofing hatchet has better penetration and edge retention against armor (or 55 gallon drums), has better meat hackability (against raccoon carcasses (bad summer, really bad summer)) and I prefer the hammer head of the hatchet over the back-spike of the hawks.

But that's me. Some other people (okay, lots of other people) will disagree with me. Back in the days when I was fighting my yard, I carried a Fiskar machete (most comfortable handle I've ever found on a 'chete), the aforementioned hatchet, and a large pocket knife. With those three tools I was able to tame most of the vegetation in my organic hell of a back yard. And they also were the tools I normally also carried when chain-sawing wood, or camping. And I carried the hatchet in the car for self defense as it was 'only' a tool and not a weapon like a tomahawk or some tactitool.

To each his own.

tweell said...

For myself and what I'd be more likely to run into in AZ, I'd want the Stanley FUBAR. Price does matter, and 80% of the functionality at 20% of the cost is appealing. It's also less likely to get the attention of the boys in blue. The downside to the Stanley would be the relative softness of steel used, but a bit of tempering and it would work quite well.

Stephen Bayliss said...

Mora knife, Stubai side-axe, has a hammer back, pry prong and since it's tapered online side only it's the dogs bollocks for shaping stuff, and a 12" folding saw. Don't need to worry so much about wildlife here in the UK.

DaveS said...

I carried the predecessor to that knife in the thigh pocket of my firefighting bunker gear. Perfect size and functionality for dealing with stuff that an axe or Halligan were too big or unwieldy for and small enough to be easy to carry. The original knife was purpose designed and built for firefighters. It's no wonder at all to me that it doesn't seem to "fit" well.

Skip said...

Like Aesop said, I use an old roofers axe/hammer for everything. Kindling, tent pegs,quartering game, etc.
That and a file, I'm good to go.

The Overgrown Hobbit said...

Ah, but do any of them have a melon-baller? :-p