Review: the Argali Carbon Knife goes whole-hog — literally
If you’re sensitive to seeing animals get cut up, consider this is a warning.
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Those of you who’ve been following my reviews for some time likely know that when a company makes superlative claims about their product, I immediately get suspicious. You might also recall that the intensity of my testing increases in direct proportion to how wild the claims that the manufacturer makes are. So when I get a new knife on my desk whose manufacturer claims it can be used to skin and dress an entire elk without needing to be resharpened, I thought I’d score another slam-dunk on a company that talks a big game and can’t back it up. I’d never even heard of Argali, and especially not a knife made by them but sold through a retailer of hiking socks and warming layers.
Argali Outdoors is a manufacturer of hunting equipment, based in Boise, Idaho. They focus on the backpack hunter, and therefore weight and form factor are a priority in their designs. The knife is made in the USA, of a so-called “super steel” and makes bold promises to hunters, the boldest of which is that the Argali Carbon Knife is worth the nearly $200 price tag. Only one problem, though: I’m not a hunter. I live in the middle of town, I shoot paper and steel, and I don’t even own a rifle that could legally be used to hunt deer in my area. But I couldn’t just slice paper and cardboard, see if the thing corrodes, and tell you that it’s good to go for hunting, so I had to think outside the box with this article in my most comprehensive test yet. Here’s what I found.
The Argali Carbon Knife came in a very plain brown cardboard box inside a larger cardboard box from First Lite, which included a large decal that I have yet to find a place for as it’s too big for my hydroflask. Inside that box is the knife itself in a pancake-style Kydex sheath, attachment screws, and cards detailing the warranty, and some sharpening tips. Despite including mounting screws, there’s no belt, MOLLE, or loop attachments to be found, so you’ll have to provide your own, depending on your personal preferences, which is a significant shortcoming at this price point.
The knife is honestly smaller than I expected, with an overall length of 7.25 inches and a blade length of 3.25 inches with the overall form factor of a paring knife. The blade is full tang, features the Argali ram logo, and markings just above the grip that say it’s made in the USA out of CPM-S35VN. The blade is a plain-edged drop point style with a flat ground and an even edge, and it features both high and low jimping, which is great for getting extreme precision when skinning an animal. The choil and heel of the knife are also serrated with their own jimping, which provides further purchase and stability against slippery scenarios like water, or more realistically, blood.
As for the handle, the grips are bolted onto either side of the naked blade and made of bright orange G10 polymer with extremely rough texturing that provides outstanding grip in every circumstance. The grip scales are also skeletonized to further enhance the lightness of the knife, which fully loaded weighs a meager 1.8 ounces, and if that’s not enough for you, you can remove the grip scales, especially if you’re the kind of backpacker who cuts their toothbrushes in half to save an ounce here and there. If you are the kind of person who does this, the sheath terminates just short of the grip scales, so unlike the Esee 6 I reviewed, the Argali fits into the sheath without the sheath needing to lock around the grip as included from the factory.
The sheath itself is a black pancake-style Kydex sheath, made of two sheets of Kydex held together with grommets. In one corner there’s a tension screw to adjust the retention of the sheath, but it seems to go from “barely tightened” to “way too tight” with only a turn or two of a hex key. That being said, even when tightened down, a firm tug will free the knife from its sheath. The grommets are spaced 1 inch apart, two on one side, three on the other, and then two more holes at the base. The Argali website says that these are compatible with Ulticlip universal belt mounts, which are sold separately, as mentioned above. Trying to use my preferred MOLLE attachment, which is a Blade Tech MOLLE Clip, I found that the holes were not spaced to be compatible with that, so make sure that whichever carrying solution you prefer, you purchase a compatible mount alongside the knife.
How we tested the Argali Carbon Knife
As I mentioned in the introduction, I’m not a hunter. I’ve skinned and cleaned fish before, but never any sort of land animal. In addition, I had no way to easily go and find an animal to skin myself, so obviously, I had to think outside of the normal purview of one of my articles. On top of the usual battery of tests that I subject every knife to, I put it through something above and beyond what the knife is advertised as.
My usual tests began with a test of the factory edge, because in my opinion, if a knife can’t cut paper and shave hair out of the box, it’s got a poor-quality factory edge. Thankfully, the CPM-S35VN blade was extremely sharp, to the point where I would consider it to be almost a cutting hazard. The blade shaved hair easily, and the thin, flat-ground blade made short work of paper, cardboard, and plastic credit card material. But nobody buys a nearly-$200 hunting knife to cut paper with.
For want of wild game in the downtown area and neighbors understanding why I’d set up a blind in my front yard right next to the sidewalk, I had to consider other options. There’s a butcher shop and grocery right down the road from me, and they process their own pigs in-house, so I asked my friend who works for Old Town Butcher in Fredericksburg, VA, if he would be able to let one of his butchers use the Argali Carbon Knife for animal processing. To my surprise, he agreed.
In the ensuing week, Jack, an employee there, used the Argali to skin and dress pigs, which is a test above and beyond the advertised capabilities of the knife. Pigskin and connective tissue are much tougher than those of elk, deer, bear, and other common game animals. It’s part of why it’s used in footballs and as a practice tattoo medium for novice artists. A week of skinning was going to be tough on this knife, and I wasn’t sure how it would perform. However, Jack was very pleased with the sharpness and edge retention of the Carbon, saying that it performed like nothing he’d ever experienced as he was used to Victorinox kitchen knives made of much softer steel. However, he did complain that the handle was very uncomfortable because of its thickness and the rough texture of the G10, and the belly of the knife was shallower than he would like, as he was trying to use a very small, shallow knife for everything that he would otherwise use various sizes of knives for. The best part was that even after a week of using only this knife for skinning, when Jack handed me back the knife, it still sliced butcher paper on the bias and shaved hair, which meant that it hadn’t lost much, if any, of its factory edge.
As a final test, I did the usual salt test, which is where I scrub wet salt into the steel of the blade and leave it in open air for 12 hours. If you’re a regular reader of my articles, you’ll likely notice that this is the part where I usually post a photo of a miserably rusted blade, since that’s something that usually happens with most of the blades I subject to this test. There’s no photo here because there was no rust to speak of, and you’d probably wonder why I had posted another photo of the knife straight out of the box. CPM-S35VN has very good anti-corrosive properties, and between pig blood and salt, it stood up to both admirably.
What we like about the Argali Carbon Knife
Dang, this thing is sharp, and it stays that way, even after heavy use that’s well above what the manufacturer claims. I’m pleasantly surprised that my expectation of slam-dunking on another hyperbolic manufacturer was metaphorically crumpled up and thrown in my face. Apart from one burr in one of the cuts, there were no apparent quality control issues. Skinning a pig, despite being harder than it would be for most game animals, did nothing to slow this blade down. The choice of CPM-S35VN, one of my favorite steels, gives this thing every bit of sharpness and edge retention that the manufacturer advertised, and legitimate concerns about sharpening difficulties are offset by the fact that Argali offers free factory sharpening for as long as you own the knife. This is a well-made, American-made, lightweight blade for the serious outdoors enthusiast or hunter.
What we don’t like about the Argali Carbon Knife
In its efforts to do everything, being a lightweight ultra-durable knife that can work as a skinning aid for a hunter who’s also concerned about space requirements, the Argali Carbon struggles in some regards. For starters, the thin grip isn’t comfortable for me or for Jack, who is smaller in stature. Then you’ve got the issue of the relatively shallow belly of the knife, a counter-example being the extremely deep one of the Wander Tactical Lynx that I reviewed, with a deeper belly being desirable for skinning and cleaning animals. CPM-S35VN, while amazing for the sharpness, corrosion resistance, and edge retention of the blade, requires special sharpening equipment to get to the factory edge again. Finally, the fact that the sheath doesn’t include any mounting device is a pretty big oversight, especially at this price point.
If you need an ultralight, ultrasharp knife to carry with you in the field, the Argali Carbon Knife is a fairly solid choice. It’ll keep its edge, fight off rust, and slice pretty much anything you throw at it in a hunting or fieldcraft environment. The only problems to consider are the lack of included mounting solutions and the price, as nearly $200 for a knife of this size is a tough pill to swallow for some people. This is definitely a serious knife for people who take the outdoors seriously. If you find the included grips too thin, it shouldn’t be too hard to wrap the handle in some 550 cord to add a layer of padding, but that means that you’ll have to clean said cord if you have to skin an animal and said 550 cord absorbs any bodily fluids. With how corrosion-resistant this knife is, I’d even consider it usable for maritime purposes, including fishing, which is a first for a knife that I’ve reviewed in this medium.
Other aspects of field usage that I tested were feathering and whittling sticks. I was unable to get photos (because I forgot) but the low and high jimping on the blade meant that I was able to control the blade very well, which means that this is a knife that has uses outside of skinning animals.
FAQs about the Argali Carbon Knife
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q: How much does the Argali Carbon Knife cost?
A: $189 for the black sheath option, $199 if you prefer the orange and camo sheath.
Q: What’s the significance of CPM-S35VN?
A: CPM-S35VN is a stainless steel formed through Crucible Particle Metallurgy, featuring Niobium in addition to Chromium, which gives the steel very good edge retention and toughness. For another great example of S35VN in action, check out my West Coast counterpart’s Cold Steel American Lawman review.
Q: What is an Argali?
A: As you probably noticed, the Argali logo is a ram. The Argali is the largest living wild sheep, native to the hills of Central Asia. Large examples of the Argali can reach up to 300 lbs in weight, and are definitely the prey that Argali Outdoors envisions their customer base stalking through the hills of Mongolia.
Q: Carbon? Isn’t that the thing my Hispanic friend’s abuela calls him?
A: No, you’re thinking of “cabrón,” which ironically literally means “a large goat.” Like the Argali. Huh.
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Matt Sampson is an 0861 in the Marine Forces Reserve and a Virginia native. In his past life, he worked in tactical gear retail and is an avid firearms enthusiast. The farthest the Marine Corps has sent him from home is Oklahoma.