Explorer Brand Knives


Feb 17, 1999
1st off, thanks for taking the time to even open this thread. In a forum where people routinely discuss multihundred dollar custom knives, mention of a company best known for dept. store "knockoff" knives might seem unlikely.

However, over the years I've had a few Explorers marketed by different companies and have had good enough experience with some of them that I thought I'd get a few more for an upcoming lockback test.

Back about 12-15 years ago, I first got introduced to the Explorer brands with a dead ringer for a Kershaw Black Horse finger groove rubber handled knife that Explorer was marketing as a "SideWinder".
I picked it up at a gunshow for something like ten bucks. For a couple years it served well as a toolbox knife that I wasn't at all afraid to beat hell out of, and early on I noticed that the oversized fingergroove handles meant that it was more useful with workgloves on than several nicer finished knives.

A bit later I picked up an unmarked 440 stainless Kukri with rubber handles that I believe to be another Explorer brand. Frankly, it's a heck of a lot more knife than many more traditional Kukris. While it's no match for a decent HI Kukri, or a good Ontario USGI Machete, it easily out chops a variety of other knives including Kabars and some Cold Steels. It's a $25 winner.

Recently, SMKW ran a closeout special on Explorer brand Alpine Hunters. These are made in Germany direct copies of the famous Puma White Hunter. While not forged, and not the equal of a stag handled White Hunter in terms of either edge holding or desirability, this one is quite definitely the equal of a Kraton handled Puma White Hunter II that I reviewed last year. In fact, the Explorer Alpine Hunter, with it's wood handle actually shows better fit, finish and craftsmanship than the Puma White Hunter II did. It would not be my favorite choice for a hunting or skinning knife, and I wouldn't expect it to hold an edge forever, but at less than $30 it's a lot of knife.

More recently yet, SMKW ran a closeout of several lockback Explorers. I picked up another rubber handled Sidewinder, an Ebony handled Buck 110 ripoff called a Safari, and a surprisingly nice pakkawood handled lockback called a Black Claw that the ad claims has a 440C blade. I'm not sure that I believe that claim, since Explorers typically feature fairly soft 440A and the letter designation is not featured on the blade.

The Safari was orig. marketed by SafeSport, and looks like a copy of a Paki copy of a Buck 110. It's flat, angular and not very well done. It's pretty hard to open, and I'd not recommend it.

The Sidewinder, is, as mentioned, a direct copy of a Kershaw Black Horse, and is a good copy. Originally these were marketed by Gutmann, (as were a lot of Explorers) It's a competent work knife that I much prefer to the original non-ATS34 Gerber Gator. It's also an amazing bargain at $9-$10.

The Black Claw was originally marketed by ServiStar and is easily the nicest of the bunch. Suggested retail on this one is said to be around $45, and it's a real bargain at $12 from Smoky. It's fit and finish is very much on par with knives in the $30-$70 discount range. It opens reasonably smoothly for a large traditional lockback, and clicks locked with a nice soft but firm click, rather than a loud snap.

The brass liners on the Explorers are a good bit thinner than on comparable Bucks and others, and the handle pins protrude into the liners noticeably. But one item worthy of mention is that the locks on the lockbacks are all very squarely and precisely machined. Much more so than on some "name" brands.

I wouldn't expect any of these to hold an edge forever, or ever be collectable, but I thought I'd mention them as sometimes offering good value in "beater" knives. One word of caution, just like most other companies, Explorer has made a lot of knives made to sell to a lot of different markets, and quite frankly they've made some junk, but then so have all the major name brand companies. What's surprising is the number of decent using knives they've made for being relatively unheard of and unheralded.

Just to be totally fair, I think I should point out that perhaps I was a bit hasty in my earlier seeming dismisal of even the lowend Explorer Safari. After an initial breakin period it got MUCH easier to open and close and can now be opened just as easily and as smoothly as many Buck and Gerber lockbacks. Also, after some very limited 'dehorning' of the sharp edges of the brass bolsters it's become a competent work knife. It's a lot of knife for $6, and isn't really at all in the same league as the Paki non-knife stuff that I erroneously compared it to earlier. We'll see how it holds up against others later, but it's becoming another example of the multitude of extreme bargains on the low end of the price scale.

Knives are certainly one area where the old addage that one gets what one pays for, can be proven wrong daily. The fact is, a good bit of the time, one gets far more than what one pays for.

I have found that a little work on even a very cheap knife can surprisenly turn it into a fairly good knife. I have noticed how just putting on a thinner edge will make a world of differance.
I have a small $5.00 lockback that has really surpized me. The lock sucks, but it is holding its edge forever. I have cut everything with it and it just asks for more.