Designed by legendary adventurer and war correspondent Robert Young Pelton, the DPx Gear HEST/F is a hard use folding knife designed to accompany you through challenging conditions. Can it?
What's It Supposed To Do? Folding knives are inherently weaker than fixed-blades — they have moving parts and, well, fold. But, they're way, way easier to carry. So, since the dawn of time, man has aspired to make folders approach fixed levels of strength.
The Hostile Environment Survival Tool/Folder is no different, attempting to pair that ultimate strength with both a light, slim, conveniently carried package and some versatile capabilities outside the typical knife purview. Most notably, the HEST/F includes a carbide steel glass breaker on its pommel, a ¼-inch bit driver in its handle, plus wire strippers and a beer opener on its blade.
Basically, Pelton wants to give you a go-to tool which rides easily in your pocket and that is more than capable of performing any heavy-duty task you might ask of it. In this case, "survival" isn't as much about drinking your own urine as it is punching your way into or out of a crashed vehicle, then fighting for you life.
How's It Supposed To Do It? You've seen titanium frame lock knives before. The light metal frame contains a cutout section which folds inwards when the blade is deployed, strongly locking the blade in place and preventing it from folding backwards, onto your hand.
Where Pelton innovates is in making only one side of the knife from titanium and the other from a heavily texturized, impressively thick slab of G10 — woven fiberglass baked in plastic resin. Traditionally, a folding knife would use a metal frame for strength, with a material like G10 glued or bolted to the outside for grip. Pelton's solution is more elegant, giving you both the strength of titanium and the grip of G10 with fewer parts and while fetishizing both high-end materials.
A "Rotoblock" locking mechanism is also incorporated onto the handle, locking the frame lock closed for even more security.
And then there's the blade, which is an impressive .19-inch thick slab of Niolox steel, 3.14 inches long. Niolox is a stainless steel spec'd for its ability to hold an edge through hard abuse, for a long time. It's difficult to sharpen, but in Pelton's extensive experience with combat troops — his target market — he's found that they don't tend to sharpen their knives in the field, instead preferring blades that will hold their edge throughout a deployment.
At .19 inches, that blade is actually thicker than any of my fixed-blade knives and uses a simple, high ground, drop point shape that should further contribute to the knife's strength and versatility.
How Does It Perform? Know the feel a quality firearm gives you? Solid, reliable, tactile function? Well this knife delivers something very similar. Its 1/3-pound weight give it an impressive heft in your hand and it locks open with reassuring authority. There's no play anywhere in the mechanism.
The thickness of the blade gets in the way of very fine detail work — you won't want to use it to slice cheese — but it arrives hair shaving sharp and has stayed that way through two weekends of outdoor use, including wood batoning, whittling and food preparation. Typically, I'd have needed to sharpen a knife's edge after a single weekend, but this one is still as-new.
The handle fills your palm without skewing oversized and the G10 combined with deep, sharp jimping gives you a very secure purchase on the knife. The handle shape makes a variety of holds possible. The glass breaker rides unobtrusively on the pommel, yet protrudes from your grip enough that using it is an intuitive affair. If you do find the little spike on the knife's top gets in your way, it ships with a flat replacement bolt. The knife's heavily textured handle and deep jimping work equally well with gloves or while wet.
That same bolt retains the ambidextrous pocket clip, a design that carries the knife deep in your pocket, nearly SOG fashion.
I can also report that the bit driver holds a bit, the jimping can strip wires (albeit not as well as the wire cutters on a multitool) and the beer opener can open beers, but for the life of me can't convince that beer opener to work as a flipper. With a little rearwards pressure, it's supposed to catch on the lip of your pocket as you pull out the knife, speedily deploying the blade. Maybe I'm just clumsy.
Elsewhere, some users have reported that really pounding on the (hard) steel blade can cause the face of the (soft) titanium frame lock to deform, creating play. I've been reasonably hard on the knife and haven't experienced this, but it should be noted that despite that lock and the rotoblock that locks it closed, this does remain a folding knife and as such will never be quite as strong as a rugged fixed blade. One of those will serve you better if you really plan to pound on it, but obviously can't be carried quite as conveniently.
It's worth noting that Pelton has updated the knife's design so it can be serviced with a standard allen wrench. This has brought the price down and no longer requires a proprietary tool to adjust the tightness of the blade hinge or dismantle the knife. After complaining of a too-tight blade, Pelton explained that his knives ship that way in order to avoid "gravity knife" regulations when imported into some markets. A little experimentation with tension delivers a wobble-free, but fast deployment.
How Does It Compare To Rivals? At $250, DPx Gear gives you a product that's about as nice as you can expect a factory knife to be. Its tolerances are tight, materials are high quality and it functions with smooth precision.
For half that money, you can get a Spyderco Paramilitary 2, which is capable of doing anything the HEST/F is, but lacks the heft, features and outright strength of the HEST's frame lock.
There's other high-end factory knives competing at this price point, notably Zero Tolerance, which makes a very nice blade, but can't quite match the HEST's rugged elegance.
A big part of this knife's appeal is also the story that goes with it. Pelton is the author of the popular World's Most Dangerous Places series — from which DPx Gear gets its name — as well as many other books, films and even graphic novels that have gained a reputation as the most accurate portrayals of conflict zones around the world. I don't mind calling myself a fan and it's neat carrying a tool he designed in my pocket.
Adventure Ready? You'd be hard pressed to find a stronger, more capable folding knife, to which the ability to shatter car windows has been seamlessly added. That the knife is so satisfying to use and comes with a neat story just make it that much more compelling. You don't need a folding knife this expensive, but it sure feels cool to have one.
All photos shot on Samsung Galaxy S5 Active.
IndefinitelyWild is a new publication about adventure travel in the outdoors, the vehicles and gear that get us there and the people we meet along the way. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.