At 16.5 inches, the ESEE Junglas is as long as a machete, but thick and sturdy like a knife. It'll also allow you to win any Crocodile Dundee "That's not a knife," contests.
What's It Supposed To Do? Like we explained last week in What Big Survival Knifes Are For And How To Use One, the "survival" name is a bit of a misnomer, these things are a multi-purpose outdoor tool that's easily carried and efficient to use for fire making, wood processing or even food preparation.
A machete differs from a knife in its length — typically 16 inches or longer — but also in its thickness and weight. Machete blades are very thin and flexible, making it easy to whip one through vines, brush and other small but pesky obstacles with great speed. It's that speed and that reach that makes them so useful in the jungle, where they're commonly found clearing paths, building shelters or gathering and preparing food.
They're also cheap, requiring a fair bit of work to sharpen and to keep sharp during heavy use. Those are two areas where quality fixed blade "survival" knives excel, coming out of the box with sharp edges and holding those edges for a long time. Where machetes are essentially disposable, knives are very strong and made to last a lifetime, thanks to quality steels, thick blades and full tangs. The Junglas aims to combine the slashing, chopping and reach of a machete with the durability and heft of a quality knife.
How's It Supposed To Do It? To create the $180 Junglas, ESEE took its successful knife formula and made it larger. Much larger. It's made from the same 1095, high carbon steel with a proprietary heat treat (what makes knives strong and able to hold an edge) as other blades in its lineup, sharing its .188 blade thickness with the $137 ESEE-6. But, compared to that knife, the Junglas is a half inch broader, at a full two inches, is fitted with a larger handle and its blade length grows from 6.5 to 10.38 inches.
As you'd expect from any ESEE product, the steel continues through the handle in a full tang and the pommel is exposed for hammering. The handle is made from canvas fibers set in a plastic resin. That, combined with its rounded edges makes it both comfortable to hold and slip-resistant, even when wet or covered in plant juice.
The Junglas does without several key features of the 6 — the choil, jimping and full-flat grind. The choil is a cutout at the back of a blade, designed to allow you to choke up your hold on the knife for fine detail work, an ability complimented by jimping, which are grip-improving ridges filed into the top of the blade, near the handle. The Junglas' high grind is good for ultimate strength, but creates a wider cutting angle when the blade shape is viewed in profile, compromising its ability to slice. All those changes point to the Junglas's purpose — hacking and chopping — made at the sacrifice of its ability to perform the slicing and other fine work of a smaller blade.
How Does It Perform? The Junglas feels lighter in your hand than its 23oz weight would suggest. That leads to good control and intuitive movements. Unlike smaller knifes, the very long blade also shifts the balance point to around an inch in front of the handle, something which should improve its ability to chop.
Out of the box, the bevel edge comes very sharp, but a few minutes on a Spyderco Sharpmaker gave it a razor's edge. While the 10.4-inch blade may make it impractical for shaving, it does make the blade pop through small saplings, vines and general brush as if no obstacle exists. Any plant of up to a full inch in thickness just disappears in one swipe from the blade, while larger limbs and trunks can be chopped through with just a few additional swings.
Even when impacting hard, dry, thick logs, the Junglas transfers very little vibration or impact through to your hand and arm. Combined with the very comfortable handle, that leads to blister and fatigue-free work.
Chopping larger pieces of wood is carried out with the efficiency and ability of a decent hatchet if not a large axe. Testing it on a 10-inch thick piece of dry oak, the Junglas also chopped through quicker than I was able to cut the same log with a small hand saw.
Surprisingly, the Junglas isn't a great tool for batoning logs — splitting them into firewood with the aid of a wood "hammer." While its length means it can span a very thick piece of wood, it also creates too much leverage, making it hard to keep the blade moving through the wood on a level; every time you hit the exposed tip with the wood baton, the handle ends up a few inches above the other end of the knife. Grabbing a friend and making it a two person job — with one holding the handle and the other batoning — fixes this problem, but removes much of the convenience of using a knife for this purpose anyways.
Predictably, the Junglas also falls down in performing small jobs. While you can tuck the blade under your armpit, steady it with your leg and draw wood or cordage or whatever across it to achieve fine control, a smaller knife whittles or prepares food or cleans game with much greater ease. In a pinch, I could clean a trout with the 12-inch ESEE-6. Trying the same with the Junglas would result in a butchered fish.
The Junglas is also a pain to carry. Strap it to your belt and it reaches all the way to your knee, getting in the way any time you're trying to squeeze through dense brush or scramble down rocks. It's much more at home on a pack, but carrying it that way means it won't be with you anytime your pack is left behind. The ability to ride on your belt, instantaneously ready for use, is a big point of carrying a knife in the outdoors in the first place.
How Does It Compare To Rivals? The Junglas will never chop half as well as a decent axe, but that axe won't clear brush or perform knife duties around camp. That's the biggest argument for the Junglas right there. It absolutely chops better than most hatchets, again topping them with its ability to perform other tasks.
While it does exceed the chopping and slashing ability of the smaller ESEE-6, the Junglas falls way behind that knife in splitting wood, slicing food, whittling or in any other small job you'd typically grab a knife to perform.
Perhaps the biggest problem arrives when you compare the Junglas to a machete. Both tools require you to carry another, smaller knife for camp chores, while the Junglas can't really outperform a good, sharpened machete at any task, including chopping. And you can pick up a good machete for $12. Having said that, the Junglas will outlast any machete while retaining a sharper edge for longer.
The knife's designer, Jeff Randall, is open about the lack of ability over a machete, saying, "Is the Junglas needed? No, a machete will do what it will do, but it is fun to use."
ESEE's unprecedented warranty is also worth mentioning. Send them back a damaged or broken blade — doesn't matter how you break it, even if it's on purpose — and they'll replace it. No questions asked, you don't need a receipt and you don't need to be the original owner. Gee, think they believe in their product?
Adventure Ready? Plenty of people will take one look at the imposing size and feel the reassuring weight of the Junglas in their hand and be totally happy dealing with its cost, weight and general awkwardness in being carried. The rest of you will be better served by employing a cheap, disposable machete when you need to slash through brush and a small handsaw to process firewood.
Me? I find myself grabbing the smaller, but nearly as capable ESEE-6 when it's time to hit a trail or hop on a dirt bike. That knife can easily be carried and is just better at being a knife than anything as large as the Junglas will ever be. I more often need my knife to split wood, slice food or just cut something than I need it to cut down a freakin' tree. Still, the Junglas sure does look cool.
Photos: Chris Brinlee Jr
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.