Review: Ontario Knife Company’s RAT 3 is an Esee by any other name

Here's how this versatile blade stood up in the field.

The Ontario Knife Company of Franklinville, New York, has  provided  the U.S. military with knives since World War II, including the Mk3 diving knife, the M1942 machete, and even the current bayonet of the U.S. Marine Corps. They also partnered with Randall’s Adventure and Training Team (RAT) to design the subject of today’s review, the Ontario Knife Company RAT 3. As the title of this article suggests, it’s nearly identical to the Esee 3 knife, with Esee having done the design work and both parties retaining the rights to produce this style of knife. 

The RAT series satisfies the three primary goals of any decent field knife: that it be full tang, that it retain an edge well, and that it be easy to maintain in the field without specialized equipment. In addition to meeting all of these requirements, it’s economically priced, as I only ended up paying roughly $60 for the RAT 3 with a partial serration, which is even more impressive when you consider that the knife was made in the United States. 

The purpose that I had in mind for this knife was a MOLLE-mounted blade to go on my plate carrier and to alleviate the difficulties of reaching for a pocket knife while wearing a plate carrier, belt, various pouches, and of course, with my right hand occupied by a rifle. And with a tried-and-true, if a little conservative blade steel like 1075 carbon steel, sharpening wouldn’t be a problem either.

I carried the Ontario Knife Company RAT 3 everywhere from home to the field for months. Here’s how it stood up.

Blade length: 3.6 in

Total length: 7.6 in

Weight: 4.9 oz

Materials: 1075 carbon steel (blade), Micarta (handle)

Unboxing

The RAT 3 comes in a simple black glossy cardboard box that more than fits the knife and includes an oversized sheath and a small warranty card. The box itself features prominent “OKC” branding, and in spite of the low price of the knife, is made of very heavy cardboard, which is something you usually see at a much higher price point versus the more usual cardstock boxing even with companies like Buck. While this has very little to do with the actual quality of the blade, it does suggest attention to detail and quality, and it’s a nice touch on the part of Ontario Knife Company.

Review: Ontario Knife Company’s RAT 3 is an Esee by any other name

As for the blade, the factory edge is there, but it’s definitely on the duller end of things. For the price point, and considering the other features, it’s probably the best you’re going to get, and with the 1075 carbon steel blade, sharpening should be no issue even for a novice with a normal whetstone and a handy online tutorial. The blade itself is simply painted black, with the bright edge contrasting neatly against the matte, almost pebble-grain finish. Despite being called the “RAT 3,” the blade is actually closer to 4 inches long, with an overall length of 7.9 inches. The blade features a full flat taper grind, and a gentle downward curve on the spine of the blade, giving a slight forward angle for more delicate applications like whittling. The knife weighs roughly 9 ounces out of the box, and the handle is a very comfortable half inch thick.

Review: Ontario Knife Company’s RAT 3 is an Esee by any other name
The Ontario Knife Company RAT 3

The Micarta handles sandwiching the full-tang blade give the knife a blatantly utilitarian appearance, and provide an excellent grip even when soaking wet. Additionally, there’s a lanyard loop at the pommel of the knife which allows for dummy-cording if you’re worried about dropping the knife in a chaotic situation. Finally, the Micarta on mine has taken on a very pleasant patina from absorbed moisture, dirt, and various stains, giving the knife a rugged, well-used appearance.

The sheath is a simple black nylon sheath with a plastic liner, and has a pass-through loop for a belt, as well as a MOLLE strap on the back, secured by a snap. The sheath is extremely large compared to the actual knife, and makes the knife take up a lot more real estate than it really ought to, which can make it a pain to actually wear on a belt or plate carrier, since it becomes a snag hazard.

Review: Ontario Knife Company’s RAT 3 is an Esee by any other name
The Ontario Knife Company RAT 3

How we tested the Ontario Knife Company RAT 3

Straight from the store, I took the Ontario Knife Company RAT 3 to the field for two weeks mounted to the front weak-side of my plate carrier for easy reach. Almost immediately, the paint chipped off the edge, exposing the carbon steel beneath “in the white” which immediately rusted in the Virginia humidity. Over the course of several more months, I used this knife in environments ranging from blazing summer heat and humidity to cold winter sojourns where the heavy rain didn’t stop for four days straight. After this, the edge was severely deteriorated, and rust had crept onto nearly every surface that wasn’t painted, which was most of the tip of the blade as well as the edge.

The second time around though, I decided to actually test the knife  somewhat scientifically. So I sent the knife to an expert, had it precisely sharpened to a mirror edge, and sent back to see how many times I could slice through various objects and still come back to neatly slicing paper — which brought to my attention an issue with how I cut things. There’s a reason why I prefer partial serrations on field knives, and it’s because I know that one of the most strenuous cuts for a plain edge is cutting through fibrous material like various types of line. So I had to make an effort to use the plain portion of the blade.

With this in mind, I found that in field conditions, I could cut through about 30 strands of 550 cord before the blade started to hitch when cutting across the bias of a Rite in the Rain page. Bringing it back up to a reasonable level of sharpness was as simple as taking a whetstone and some soap and water. The sharpener who I had sent the knife to also recommended using the unfinished underside of a ceramic mug to maintain the edge, as carbon steel has a low enough carbide count to take an edge from ceramic.

Additionally, I used the blade to split small sticks along their length, to simulate batoning larger logs with a 5- or 7-inch blade of the same design. While not a perfect simulation, it definitely showed that the design of the knife overall lent itself well to some of the more bushcraft aspects of field use. Add to this the usual regimen of cutting food, opening packages, and bored whittling, and the knife was pretty much used for what almost anyone short of a serious bushcrafter or hunter would need.

Review: Ontario Knife Company’s RAT 3 is an Esee by any other name
The Ontario Knife Company RAT 3

What we like about the Ontario Knife Company RAT 3

The RAT 3 is a true field knife, made to be durable, easy to sharpen in adverse conditions, and versatile in how it can be used. The 1075 carbon steel takes an edge well and keeps it against sustained use, with a stated Rockwell Hardness of 57-59, and an edge bevel that’s suited to heavy and coarse use. 

The knife is also very handy, with a considerable choil cutout and a ridged portion on the spine for the purposes of choking up on the knife during whittling or cleaning an animal. Using Micarta for the grip scales was a good choice, as it’s both affordable and exceptionally good at staying grippy even in wet or sweaty conditions. 

Finally, the price is very economical, especially for the construction and features that you’re getting. At this price point, you could easily go get a hidden- or partial-tang knife made of cheap stainless steel, with no usable sheath and ABS plastic grips. In those cases, you’ll  usually be paying for an unusual design or a company that’s riding on the coattails of their reputation, whereas with the RAT 3, you’re getting a very plain, no-frills knife that excels in areas that are more important for practical use, such as durability and comfort.

For what it’s worth, these comments also apply to the Esee 3 which, apart from being made with a 1095 steel that trades toughness for added edge retention, is functionally identical to the RAT 3. This includes in terms of price, dimensions, and weight, and aftermarket sheaths are compatible between the two knives.

What we don’t like about the Ontario Knife Company RAT 3

The knife’s sheath is huge and takes up a lot of space, no matter how you choose to wear it. Do yourself a favor and find a company that does Kydex sheaths for the RAT 3. Full disclosure, at the first opportunity that I had, I swapped the stock sheath for a Kydex one from Extreme Edge Custom Kydex. But you can find them easily on various retail sites, usually marked as being for the Esee 3. Same design of knife, works for both.

Additionally, this knife, being carbon steel, rusts almost immediately after being exposed to moisture, requiring constant upkeep. The coat of paint on the blade is also poorly applied and chips off under even light usage. On the subject of maintenance, my sharpening guy Peter had this to say:

“[1075] is a simple steel with only some carbides in it, so sharpening isn’t a chore. It will demand daily inspection at the edge and wear points for rust. It will require more regular touch-ups on ceramic over a week of use. If it gets damaged in the field, you could probably fix it on a decent rock….The RAT-3 can be maintained on a small combo whetstone with soap and water, and touch-ups can be done on the bottom of a ceramic mug. It’s a field knife. It is a little small in some hands, but that small blade is handy and easy to keep sharp if you know what you’re doing.”

Verdict

For the outdoorsman on a budget, or for someone looking for their first field knife, the Ontario Knife Company RAT 3 is probably one of my first choices. It’s compact, handy, durable, and economically priced. You’re definitely getting what you pay for in terms of things like the sheath and blade coating, but those are fixable issues. The Esee 3 is in the same category and approximately the same price, and so choosing between the two is a matter of preference on whether you prefer a blade that’s resistant to breaking and chipping, and a blade that holds an edge a little longer.

Saved Rounds

One of the things I’m going to be doing with this knife is taking it to a professional to have the blade stripped of paint and heat blued or ceramic-coated, since that will both look better and be less likely to chip. This is another cost element to consider with the RAT 3 if you plan on addressing the paint chipping issues. 

A good place to get aftermarket sheaths is to get the ones made for the Esee 3 on Amazon, and then adding your preferred mounting method, whether that’s MOLLE clips or belt loops, whatever the case. These are better because they provide retention, a slimmer profile, and much more convenient access, should you need your knife in a hurry. They also generally look more modern, and looking cool is paramount, obviously.

FAQs about the Ontario Knife Company RAT 3

More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief. 

Q. How much does the Ontario Knife Company RAT 3 Cost?

A. Ontario Knife Company lists an MSRP of $90, but most places will have it for around $60.

Q. What is 1075 carbon steel?

A. 1075 is a time-tested carbon steel that’s notable for its durability, resistance to chipping and snapping, and low cost. 1075 uses carbon and manganese, with trace amounts of phosphorus and sulfur. This is as opposed to stainless steels, which will have considerable amounts of chromium, cobalt, vanadium, niobium, and other materials added in.

Q. What is Micarta?

A. Micarta is a family of resin-impregnated cotton materials, which are made into various shapes using a router, similar to CNC machining or wood turning. It’s notable for still retaining some of the absorbent properties of cotton, depending on its composition, ranging from feeling like hard cardboard or felt, all the way to heavily-resined micarta that can look like ivory.

Q. Do you really think you’re gonna kill someone with that knife?

A. No. 99.9 percent of people don’t know how to fight (effectively) with a knife. I’m among that number. Remember the first rule of knife fighting: don’t get in a knife fight. The second rule  is even if you’re the only one with a knife, you’re going to get cut.

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