ESEE knives have developed quite a following. The ESEE-4 is one of the most popular ESEE knives. Designed by Jeff Randall and Mike Perrin as an all-around tactical, survival and bushcraft knife, ESEE Knives considers it to be the perfect blend between toughness and cutting efficiency in a small package. It has been standard issue since 2014 to all USAF SERE Specialist Candidates when they arrive at Fairchild AFB to begin their training. They get to keep the knife if they graduate.

The Knife

Due to many requests, the ESEE-4 is now available in CPM® S35VN™ stainless steel. The ESEE-4 is also available in 1095 high carbon steel. The ESEE-4 S35V comes with your choice of Micarta® or G10 handle scales. ESEE provided me with the ESEE-4 S35V with Canvas Micarta handle scales for evaluation.

The ESEE-4 is one of the most popular ESEE knives ever made.

The ESEE -4 has an overall length of 9.0”. It has a versatile 4.5” full-tang drop-point blade with a full flat grind. The blade has a 4.375” plain cutting edge. Blade width is 1.25”. The blade is a fairly robust 0.188” maximum thickness. The knife weighs 8.0 oz. without the sheath.

The blade geometry of the ESEE-4 makes it an excellent all-purpose field knife. The drop-point blade on the ESSE-4 provides a large cutting edge, good control, and a strong point. The full flat grind provides a thick spine for strength and tapers down to a thin, sharp edge for excellent slicing capability. Thumb jimping on the spine provides precise control when needed. The blade features a large choil that simplifies sharpening in the field and allows the full length of the cutting edge to be properly sharpened. The blade on the ESEE-4 S35V has an attractive stonewashed finish.

Choice of Steel

CPM S35VN a top-grade martensitic stainless steel that’s often referred to as a “super steel.”. It’s become one of most popular stainless steels with knife makers. Made in the USA by by Crucible Industries, it’s a tougher version of the popular CPM S30V, due to the addition of 0.5% niobium. The addition of niobium makes CPM S35VN about 15% to 20% tougher than CPM S30V. CPM S35VN has has 14% chromium to maximize corrosion resistance without giving up too much toughness.

CPM S35VN offers what many consider the best combination of toughness, wear resistance, stain and corrosion resistance. It offers better resistance to chipping than CPM-S30V, while maintaining ease of sharpening relative to its wear resistance. I say “relative to edge retention” since CPM S35VN can take a little longer to sharpen.

The blade on the ESEE-4 S35V has a hardness of 59-60 RC. This is considered the sweet spot for CPM S35VN. In comparison, my ESEE-5 with its 1095 blade has an edge hardness of 55-57 RC. In my own admittedly unscientific testing, the CPM S35VN blade on the ESEE-4 S35V had roughly twice the edge retention of the 1095 blade on the ESEE-5, which has good edge retention.

The ESEE-4 S35V features a 4.5″ CPM S35VN stainless steel full-tang drop-point blade with a stonewash finish.

I know that there are some steel snobs out there who may disagree, but the simple truth is that no one steel is right for every knife. Just as there are pros and cons to every knife, there are advantages and disadvantages to every steel. When selecting a steel, one must balance multiple factors, including type/design of the knife, how the knife will be used and cost. Requirements will differ. Just as one must match the tool to the job, one must match the steel to the tool. In making purchasing decisions, you need to determine what type of knife you’re buying and what you’ll be using it for.

For a hard-use survival or bushcrafting knife, ESEE Knives recommends its 1095 blades. It may be old school, but 1095 still has a lot going for it when properly heat treated. The USMC has specified 1095 steel for its combat knives since WW2. The USAF SERE Specialist School issued knife is also 1095.

1095 is a basic steel that contains approximately 0.95% carbon (hence the 95 in 1095) and 0.4% manganese as the main alloying elements. It’s less expensive than the high-tech stainless steel alloys and can be forged relatively easily. When heat treated properly, it’s reasonably tough, takes a good edge, holds the edge relatively well, and is easy to sharpen in the field.

The heat treatment is a pivotal step in defining any steel. ESSE Knives is known for its 1095 and it definitely does it right. Although more costly and time consuming to do, ESEE Knives does a proprietary differential heat treatment on all its 1095 steel knives. The differential heat treatment differentially alters the properties of the steel, creating areas that are harder or softer than others. This helps create a tough blade with a wear resistant edge. It makes the 1095 knives from ESSE Knives stronger and capable of withstanding the sideways stresses that many other knives cannot.

ESEE-4 is available in three handle scale options: traditional Canvas Micarta (shown), orange G10, and a 3D G10 handle in black and gray.

Although both stainless steel and carbon steel are effective for starting a fire with ferro rods, stainless steel isn’t effective for starting a fire using the flint and steel method. High-carbon steels like 1095 work best for the latter, which may be a consideration for survival applications.

The big drawback to 1095 is that it has very low corrosion resistance and rusts fairly easily due to its high carbon content. For this reason, most 1095 blades have some sort of coating to resist rust. ESEE Knives powder coats its 1095 blades. This is done through an electrostatic spray process that causes powder particles to adhere to the steel. The powder-coated items are placed in an oven and cured at 400ºF. The result is a solid, tough, abrasion-resistant textured coating that resists chemicals and corrosion.

All coatings will wear off eventually with use. However, with proper care and maintenance you won’t ever have any corrosion or rust problems. Just keep1095 blades cleaned and lubricated. ESEE Knives suggests using a dry film rust inhibitor such as Sentry TUF-GLIDE® or TUF-CLOTH®. Lip balm, such as ChapStick®, can also be used in a pinch to protect the blade. Both are non-toxic, which is essential if the knife will be used for food preparation.

The Handle

The ESEE-4 is available with your choice of traditional Canvas Micarta; Orange G10 and 3D G10 handle scales. Both Micarta and G10 are high-pressure thermoset laminates that offer excellent strength and durability. Micarta is made using paper, burlap, canvas, or linen set-in resin. G10 differs in that it uses layers of fiberglass cloth. Both Micarta and G10 are excellent materials for knife handle scales. You really can’t go wrong with either material.

The scales are attached to the tang with recessed black-finished stainless steel flat-head hex-socket screws in two locations, allowing them to easily be removed for cleaning. The scales are precisely machined and fit the handle perfectly without any gaps. There are no hot spots. The handle has a rounded exposed pommel with a lanyard hole.

ESEE-4 comes with molded ambidextrous friction-fit sheath w/ clip plate.

The knife that I received was equipped with the traditional Canvas Micarta scales. The scales are flat sided with radiused edges. They lack the contouring and palm swell of the 3D G10 scales but are nonetheless comfortable and secure in the hand. The handle slopes into a deep finger groove behind the guard that protects the fingers from slipping on the blade and aids in indexing and retention.

The handle design plays an important role in how the knife is to be used. The Canvas Micarta scales provide a very secure gripping surface even with wet or bloody hands. Some with larger hands may find the handle on the ESSE-4 to be a bit on the small side but the handle design is all about precision and finesse. Extended handle scales are available aftermarket for the ESEE-4.

The Sheath

The ESEE-4 comes with a pancake-style (two-layer w/ grommets on both sides) injection molded plastic friction-fit sheath with a clip plate belt clip attachment and a drain hole. The sheath is available in black, coyote brown and OD. Sheath color is dependent on model. The ESEE-4 S35V comes with a black sheath.

The polymer clip plate is attached to the sheath with four Philips-head Chicago screws. It may be mounted for right- and left-hand vertical carry. The clip itself is made of spring steel and has a black oxide coating. It fits belt up to 2.0” wide.

The sheath is well finished and holds the knife very securely in place. The sheath locked the knife in so tightly when received that the knife was actually difficult to remove. It took around 50-60 draws before the sheath loosened up to an acceptable level. The sheath has a wide mouth that allows for easy re-sheathing.

There are numerous aftermarket sheaths available for the ESEE-4. ESEE Knives offers an optional Armatus Carry Solutions custom taco-style (fold-over w/ grommets on one side) Architect Sheath in Whiskey True Hide pattern (looks like brown leather) Kydex® for the ESEE-4.

Clip plate has spring steel clip that fits belt up to 2” wide.

The Architect Sheath currently being offered by ESEE Knives doesn’t fit the ESSE-4 with 3D G10 handles. The Architect Sheath in the Whiskey True Hide pattern is only available directly for purchase directly from the ESEE Knives website.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to understand why the ESSE-4 is so popular. If you’re looking for reasonably-sized all-around field knife that holds a great edge and requires minimal care, you’ll definitely want to check out the ESEE-4 S35V. It’s an outstanding knife. Fit and finish are superb. The blade came razor sharp of the box. Each knife is individually serial numbered.

ESEE Knives gives you a lot of value for your dollar with all of its knives. The ESEE-4 S35V has a MSRP from $213.00. This is very reasonable for a premium CPM S35VN fixed blade knife. ESEE knives are manufactured for ESEE Knives by Rowen Manufacturing in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

All ESEE knives come with an unconditional lifetime warranty. If you ever break an ESEE knife, they’ll replace it, no questions asked. The warranty is transferable. No receipt or proof of purchase is required.


ESEE Knives / Randall’s Adventure Training & Equipment Group

Armatus Carry Solutions

Sentry Products Group


Product Specifications
ESEE-4 S35V Fixed Blade Knife Canvas Micarta

Brand: ESEE Knives
Manufacturer: Rowen Manufacturing for ESEE Knives
Model: ESEE-4
Model Number: 4P35V
Designer: J
eff Randall and Mike Perrin
Knife Type: Fixed Blade
Overall Length: 9.00″
Blade Length: 4.50″
Cutting Edge: 4.375″
Blade Width: 1.25″
Maximum Blade Thickness: 0.188″
Blade Material: CPM S35VN Stainless Steel
Blade Hardness: 59-60 RC
Blade Style: Drop Point
Blade Grind: Full Flat
Finish: Stone Washed
Edge Type: Plain
Blade Tang: Full
Blade Spine: Thumb Jimping
Pommel: Rounded Exposed Pommel w/ Lanyard Hole
Handle Length: 4.50″
Handle Material: Canvas Micarta
Handle Color: Tan
Removable Handle Scales: Yes
Weight: 8.0 oz.
Sheath: Molded Pancake w/ Clip Plate
User: Right Hand, Left Hand
Country of Origin: USA
Best Use: General Outdoor/Hunting
Warranty: Unconditional Lifetime
MSRP: From $213.00

Material Disclosure

I received this product as a courtesy from the manufacturer so I could test it and give my honest feedback. I am not bound by any written, verbal or implied contract to give this product a good review. All opinions are my own and are based off my personal experience with the product.

*The views and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the original authors and contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Spotter Up Magazine, the administrative staff, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

By Eugene Nielsen

Eugene Nielsen provides intelligence and security consulting services. He has a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of California. His byline has appeared in numerous national and international journals and magazines.

2 thoughts on “ESEE-4 S35V: Premium 4.5” Fixed Blade Field Knife”
  1. It’s not a big deal but you mentioned that in a pinch one could use lip balm to keep rust at bay or Tuf Cloth/Glide as they’re food safe. The issue is that the powder coating is not food safe and this article could potentially mislead readers/consumers into a false sense of security when using the knives for food prep. I’m referring specifically to any of the 1095 powder coated blades. No offense was intended in my comments I admire your write up.

    1. The ESEE powder coating on its 1095 blades is a baked epoxy finish which becomes an inert plastic when fully cured. It is considered compliant for incidental food contact. As mentioned, the USAF SERE Specialist Training utilizes the 1095 blades in its survival training.

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