ROUGHING UP THE ROAMER 315
Where there’s a Steel Will, there’s a way.
By Mike Travis
Iwas asked to review some knives for a fellow writer, and I agreed—not knowing what knives I would be getting. When the Steel Will Roamer R315 showed up at my door, I was intrigued. I’ve watched numerous reviews on Youtube that praise several models from Steel Will. However, until now, I had never tried one for myself. Steel Will’s reputation for making high-quality, high-value knives made me eager to test this blade.
IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR A HARD-USE, BACKCOUNTRY HUNTING/SURVIVAL KNIFE, I CAN GIVE THE STEEL WILL ROAMER R315 MY ABSOLUTE STAMP OF APPROVAL.
I was immediately struck by the thought that this knife could be a direct competitor to the venerable Buck 119. The 119 is a legendary blade in the American hunting and outdoors knife arena, so living up to those expectations would be no easy task for the Roamer. The Roamer R315 has an overall length of 9.72 inches. It has a blade length of 4.5 inches and a thickness of .16 inch. The thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) handle fully encloses the full-length tang, except for a small, exposed section at the butt of the knife. While the Roamer is made in Italy, the blade is made from Chinese 9CR18MOV stainless steel. I will be the first to admit that this caused my “inner knife skeptic” to take notice. Yes, I have had some superb experiences with Chinese knife steels, but I have also experienced some that did not live up to my expectations. My initial impressions of the Roamer were good. The knife rides in a sturdy, right-hand, black leather belt sheath. The leather appears to be of good quality, and the stitching is clean, even and reinforced with two steel rivets. The sheath also features a dual layer welt and well-executed dangler belt attachment system. The knife is held securely in place by an integral snap closure that is easy to engage and disengage one-handedly. The Roamer, itself, appeared to be well made. The TPE handle has a soft, but firm, feel and is grippy without being aggressive. The fact that it fully encloses the tang means it should pose no problems when used in extremely cold weather. The grip is well contoured and fit my large hands nicely. The grinds are clean and perfectly even, and the edge comes razor sharp right out of the box. There is some jimping along the spine just forward of the handle. It’s not overly pronounced but provides some extra traction when using the knife in a saber grip. The exposed surfaces of the blade have an even, well-executed, brushed-satin finish that is pleasing to the eye. Overall, my first impressions of the knife were that it was high quality and showed good attention to detail.
TESTING THE ROAMER’S METTLE
Because my hunting seasons were long over, I would not be able to put the Roamer to use
field-dressing and butchering deer or other large game. I needed to devise another test. My main concern with this knife was the quality and integrity of the steel. I could think of no better way to test the edge—and the knife overall—than to take it up to the Appalachian Trail, find some seasoned (and frozen!) red oak and use the Roamer to process it down for firewood. After a nice hike along the trail. I found a deadfall oak that would serve as my testing medium. I cut off several sections that would eventually become my firewood for making lunch. I also cut off several sections of a maple log for making a baton to help drive the Roamer through the oak. Carving out a handle for the baton proved to be no problem. The Roamer easily split off sections of the maple, reducing one end to hand-sized proportions. I then used the keen edge to smooth out all the sharp ridges and angles. With a solid baton in one hand and the Roamer R315 in the other, I found the most twisted, knotty section of the oak I had cut. Hammering the Roamer through the tight, twisted grain of frozen red oak would quickly point out any deficiencies in the steel. I aimed the Roamer right at the middle of the knotty wood. After a few blows with the baton, it got stuck. It took quite a bit of pounding on both the tip of the knife and the TPE handle to remove it from the wood. Seeing that there was no damage to either the handle or the blade, I began to take smaller “bites” from the wood, deliberately aiming for knots to stress the edge. At the end of this round of abuse, the Roamer was still in perfect shape. There wasn’t so much as a nick on the edge. Next, I wanted to test the integrity of the tip. For this, I took the Roamer to the main body of the downed oak and used the tip to stab, pry and dig a hole into the log. My bare hand did not slip during the stabbing, and the tip remained in perfect condition from start to finish. The exposed tang at the butt of the knife provided a good surface to hammer the tip into the log without causing damage to the handle. I then wanted to put lateral stress on the edge. I placed the edge flat against the surface of the oak log and used the baton to hammer it into the wood. This is called “cross-grain batoning.” It puts a lot of stress on the edge. To increase the stress, I made incomplete “V” cuts into the oak. By twisting the knife in the cut
AT THE END OF THIS ROUND OF ABUSE, THE ROAMER WAS STILL IN PERFECT SHAPE. THERE WASN’T SO MUCH AS A NICK ON THE EDGE.
as I hit it with the baton, I could pop sections of wood free from the log. Several times, I twisted the knife so hard that I could see the entire blade flex prior to popping the wood loose. When this had no effect on the integrity of the edge, I used the Roamer to split a piece of maple in half. I then hammered the edge straight through the split wood to create a sturdy, dry base for my cook fire. The Roamer R315 has a short section of spine with a 90-degree edge. It is located directly between the jimping and the start of the swedge. It is extremely sharp, and I used this to strike the ferro rod to start my cook fire. I know some of you are convinced that I am an idiot for putting a knife through such abusive testing. Well, you might be right, but I did it with a specific purpose in mind. I wanted to know if this knife would hold up to the rigors of a hard-use hunting knife.
STEEL WILL’S REPUTATION FOR MAKING HIGH-QUALITY, HIGH-VALUE KNIVES MADE ME EAGER TO TEST THIS BLADE.
It might be called upon to split a pelvic bone, chop through a rib cage, take apart joints and fillet a backstrap. In addition to the normal game-processing tasks, this knife might be called upon to help prepare a cook fire or set up an impromptu field shelter. You do not want to find out in the middle of your hunt that your knife isn’t up to the job!
I observed absolutely no damage to the edge or to the knife overall during any of my testing. When I got it home, it was still paper-slicing sharp. After less than a minute with a strop, the edge was popping the hair off the back of my arm and was sharper than before I started testing! To say I am impressed with the Roamer R315 would be an understatement. I was fully prepared to say that while I liked the design, I wish it had been made with a better steel. However, my testing and use of the knife have shown that the steel is fully up to the job. It might not be one of the high-end, expensive steels I thought I would have preferred, but it has proven itself to be tough, capable of taking and holding an excellent edge, and is easy to maintain. I’m not sure what else I could ask for—especially at its MSRP ($60)! If you are looking for a hard-use, backcountry hunting/survival knife, I can give the Steel Will Roamer R315 my absolute stamp of approval. I don’t think it will replace the Buck 119 in the annals of legendary hunting knives, but it appears to be earning a place right alongside it.
MY INITIAL IMPRESSIONS OF THE ROAMER WERE GOOD. THE KNIFE RIDES IN A STURDY, RIGHT-HAND, BLACK LEATHER BELT SHEATH. THE LEATHER APPEARS TO BE OF GOOD QUALITY, AND THE STITCHING IS CLEAN, EVEN AND REINFORCED WITH TWO STEEL RIVETS.
Steel Will has taken the lines of a traditional hunting knife and combined them with modern materials and a healthy dose of steroids to create a blade that is just as at home processing a deer as it is preparing wood for the campfire.
Below: In a last-ditch effort to find a weakness with the Roamer, the author used it to chop into a large oak log. Despite the heavy blows of the baton and the significant resistance of the oak, the Roamer remained sharp and straight— and seemed to be begging for more.
Left: The sheath utilizes a dangler-style belt attachment system. The flexibility of the dangler keeps the knife accessible, even when wearing bulky clothing.
Bottom: The Roamer is shown with the author’s chosen edge-maintenance tools for the field: an Eze-lap CD4 sharpening stone and a homemade leather strop.
Below: The Roamer 315 occupies the same workspace as the venerable Buck 119. Those are some very big shoes to fill, but in the author’s experience, the Roamer has what it takes.
Right: Not satisfied with pounding the Roamer through frozen maple, the author hammered the edge through a piece of frozen oak. This turned out to be no challenge for the blade.
Above, left: Because the author didn’t have an elk to delimb, the Roamer’s edge integrity was tested by pounding it through a knotty piece of twisted, frozen oak. It suffered no damage at all.
Left: Any defects in the steel or heat treat used to make a knife are sure to be revealed by hammering the edge into a piece of seasoned wood at a 90-degree angle to the grain. None were found here.
The Roamer is being used to take out large sections of wood to reduce its diameter.
The author has chosen a piece of red oak to create a baton.
The Roamer 315 is shown with the tool that will be used to push it to its limits.
Due to its excellent grind geometry, the Roamer is just as good at finer cutting chores as it is at heavy work.
Knife-testing can help build up an appetite! The Roamer R315 is certainly right at home doing basic camp chores.
When the abusive testing was done, the author used the Roamer to prepare a small cook fire and ignite it with a ferro rod.