Review: Pack River folder

Oct 3, 1998
I've admired Steve Mullin's Pack River folders for years
now, seeing them at shows from time to time. Tellingly,
whenever I go to a show and there are Pack River folders
present, my friends and I always end up spending a good long
while standing at that table admiring them.

These folders are nice-looking, great-performing knives.
It's got a fully drop-point blade and a titanium interframe
handle, with exquisite lines. For a really bad pictures,
check here:

However, those pictures do no justice whatsoever to this
knife. Here are the specs:

Blade: 3.5" fully-flat-ground drop-point blade with distal
taper. Relatively thin (<1/8") 440V steel. Satin or bead
blast finish.

Handle: Titanium interframe with g-10 inserts. The titanium
can be anodized; the purple is particularly striking. The
handle drops slightly in front of the index finger to form a
small guard. Overall handle thickness is just 5/16 (this is
a thin package), length is 4.5".

Lock: Lockback

Opening: Angled and grooved thumbstud

Carry: No clip! It carries in an interesting little
ballistic nylon pouch with a clip on it.
Performance Tests:

The knife I tested was actually Steve's personal carry
knife, well-used and worn in. It came pretty sharp at the
back and somewhat sharp up front, having obviously been used
a lot. The edge was nice and thin, and rather than sharpen
the whole thing I took a few quick strokes on the
Sharpmaker, instead of completely resharpening as I usually
do (in other words, I didn't thin or rough up the edge
anywhere). Which makes its performance in the tests below
all the more impressive.

I started off with the whittling test. Most people don't do
a lot of whittling in real life, but I find this test to be
the best indicator of good high-performance edge geometry.
To do well at whittling and to stroke smoothly, the edge
needs to be consistent and thin. This knife blew away my
Ascent (I use the Ascent as a "control" knife in tests
because of its consistent great all-around performance). In
fact, only the super-thin Calypso Jr. was in the same

It was a consistently great rope cutter as well. I cut hard
poly rope, which it bit into nicely. I cut cotton and hemp
ropes, and tried cutting all ropes by slicing them, and then
more realistically by forming a loop of rope in my hand and
half-pushcutting/half-slicing my way through. The Pack
River was consistently a top performer, beating all the
knives I tested it against. Even with a relatively polished
edge, the blade was thin enough that I could partly push-cut
through even the hardest ropes if it stopped biting, and
that would make it bite again.

Cutting through cardboard, the Pack River again
out-performed the Ascent and most others handily. The
Calypso Jr. was a strong competitor until the cardboard got
too thick and the lock started bending outwards from the
pressure. The Pack River's lock handled cardboard of this
thickness easily.

Just for grins I tried the standard liner lock tests on the
Pack River, which it passed with flying colors. In
addition, the lock is placed where I was never in even
remote danger of hitting the release and unlocking it.

I also did my medium-hard thrust into the phone book test.
This isn't a hard-power thrust to formally test penetration,
but rather a test of basic point and heat treatment
soundness (the Pack River did fine), ergonomics (the Pack
River's are excellent), lock strength (no problems) and
accuracy (the Pack River pointed naturally).

I also sliced raw carrots with it, since food prep seems to
be one of the things I do a lot. As you might imagine,
since its edge profile is similar to a kitchen knife's (thin
& flat ground), it sliced wonderfully well and with great
control. Control-wise this flat grind works better than a
sabre grind for this type of cutting.
Ergonomically it held up very well during all the tests. My
only problem is that my little finger got rubbed a little
bit from the relatively sharp inner-corners of the handle
slabs. They need to be beveled or otherwise smoothed just a
little bit. I told Steve about this, he knew about the
problem already and was taking steps to fix it. The thumb
stud is also a bit close to the handle scale, and so is hard
to pick up for a panic-opening. But once your thumb hits
that thumb stud, it sticks like glue.

Having completed all those tests, the edge did not appear to
suffer any degradation in sharpness. It seemed as sharp as
when I had started.


For straight cutting chores, the only knife that cut as well
as the Pack River was the Calypso Jr. Both knives have
relatively thin, fully-flat-ground blades. For harder jobs,
the Pack River's stronger lock, longer blade, and safer
(guarded) handle makes it perfectly suitable, and the 440V
blade guarantees you can do a lot of cutting before you need
to re-sharpen. A nice belly works great for cutting, and
the dropped point provides enough strength and control.
Overall, a "gentleman's scalpel" that's capable of handling
bigger jobs too.

Aesthetically, the knife had beautiful striking lines. The
lockback has beautiful smooth action, something not often
seen in lockbacks. More importantly, the lockback does not
disengage accidently, but holds firmly and strongly until
you purposely disengage it (as opposed to many liner locks
out there). The thumbstud works well, and the face of it is
angled and grooved. Your thumb hits it perfectly and sticks
to it well, but does not get ripped and torn up.

This knife is outstanding for medium-use work and even
hard-use work as long as you're not prying with the
relatively thin blade. It can perform at light-to-medium
duty tasks as well as any gentleman's scalpel type knife,
but is strong enough to handle harder cutting chores easily,
and will hold an edge right through them. Classy-looking
with great fit and finish, I highly recommend the Pack River


Joe has got it covered on this great knife. I'll add only this--

I started dating this woman, and I thought I'd get an idea on how she feels about knives. I usually have the pack river folder on me, so I handed it to her.

She grasped it firmly in her delicate hand, then ran her fingers lovingly over and over the curves. The trace of a smile came to her lips.

"Oooohh, I like your knife," she cooed, as she choked up firmly on the handle and squeezed.

She played with it for quite some time, and demonstrated a manual dexterity that I found quite appealing.

Steve should be commended for a design that can elicit such a response.

Yep-that knife is a real sleeper.

I do wish Steve would make a slightly larger
(4") model with ambi studs AND a clip.

That would REALLY be neat.......

My .02
Looks like a great knife and I am very impressed with it per your review, but in this instance I think cost is prohibitive.

The Calypso, Jr. is 1/6th the price.

I realize that not everyone is as poor/cheap as I am, but that's just my opinion.

Thanks for the excellent review, Joe.

I'm definitely of the opinion that high-priced knives are a dimishing-returns proposition, and it's the buyer who needs to decide for himself what he's willing to pay. Your call, and the Calypso Jr. fills the role incredibly well, it is amazing.

However, I'll point out briefly that the Pack River has some advantages over the Calypso Jr. besides the usual semi-custom advantages of aesthetics and fit&finish. The Pack River has some features that are legitimately better -- 440V blade that holds an edge forever, a bigger blade with an actual belly, and a lock so much stronger that it's much better suited for hard use. This situation isn't always the case -- for example, my $80 AFCK outperforms most of my high-$$ custom tacticals in almost every way!

That said, this *is* a lot to pay for a knife, period. For me, though, once my already-ordered Sebenza arrives, this will be my next high-end folder purchase. If I'm gonna pay $$ for a folder, I can't think of a better one to get.


[This message has been edited by Joe Talmadge (edited 02 December 1998).]
If they'd hurry up and make the Calypso, Jr. in VG-10, CPM440V, or even ATS-55, that would go along way toward making the Calypso, Jr. almost "the perfect pocket knife"


(IMHO, of course)

I agree with what you said about the belly on the blade. I wish Spyderco would make a smaller knife with a blade shaped just like the one on the Military...

Please post a review of the Sebenza when you get it. I have heard most people's opinions of it but would be very interested in hearing yours.

Thanks again for all the great reviews.

Clay Fleischer

"10,000 Lemmings Can't Be Wrong!"

I agree with you totally about the lack of belly on the Calypso Jr. It is the main reason I have held off buying one, I really like the blade shape of my Wegner Jr. It is also the reason I have become so obsessed with the possibility of Spyderco continuing their collaboration with Bob Lum and producing his Chinese Folder. It has a wide blade with a flat grind so should have a thin edge and some belly
,C'mon Spyderco, just do it!