If you ever ask for suggestions with regards to finding a small fixed blade knife to take into the woods, it seems the de facto nomination is nearly always the ESEE Izula. I don’t know why it took us this long to snap one up, especially considering how much both Elise and I love the look of ESEEs in general, but now that we do have one, I can safely say that – just as expected – it lives up to the hype. I am honestly quite happy with my ESEE Izula, even if it doesn’t really fit my requirements for a typical outdoor fixed blade knife.
The Izula is an oddball of a knife. Out of the box, it’s as bare bones as a fixed blade can get: simply a slab of powder coated 1095 steel. Absolutely nothing else; and in a lot of ways, that is what appeals to the majority of us. So many “outdoor” knives lambaste us with sawbacks, blood grooves, and all sorts of weird widget-like add-ons. It can be frustrating when all you want is a simple, working cutting tool. Sure, some knives can do those add-on features well, but for the most part, the features just don’t work as nicely as you’d hope.
Personally, 99.999% of the time – all I want out of my knife is a knife. Nothing more; just excel at that and I’m more than happy!
ESEE-designed knives, either made by Rowen in the USA or Lion Steel in Italy (depending on model) have an aesthetic ideal that promotes function above all else. Even if nothing else is said about ESEE, they do deserve some serious props for the aesthetic identity they’ve carved out for themselves alone.
In hand, the most striking aspect of the ESEE Izula is how how high quality the knife feels, even with its complete lack of features and embellishments. The second most striking aspect is just how stout it is. You probably wouldn’t expect it with a simple glance, but at 0.156 inches (4 mm) thick, the ESEE Izula can definitely handle whatever task you throw its way. I don’t think you could break the blade even if you hammered it into the side of the tree and then proceeded to jump on it.
Dependable is a decent word to use for describing the feeling it evokes.
Unfortunately, the ESEE Izula’s spartan design and lack of ergonomic considerations does mean that comfort is limited when gripped. This isn’t too big of a problem, however, as it’s only the case if the knife isn’t sporting any handles or a paracord wrap. You can buy versions with handles, or buy handles separately, which would make the Izula very comfortable. I know because, while I didn’t buy handles yet for the Izula, I did purchase the handles for the ESEE Candiru I picked up, and they’re fantastic; the ones for the Izula are the exact same but made for the Izula’s longer handle. Making your own paracord wrap for the Izula is also very straightforward; not difficult at all. Or, if you’re too lazy to figure things out but would still like a paracord handle, you can go for the paracord wrap version of the Izula as that’s sold online as well.
Without any handles/paracord wrap, the standard saber grip is fine until you actually have to apply lateral pressure. That’s when the lack of meat in the skeletonized steel handle becomes quite apparent – it just wants to twist out of the palm of your hands. No good.
The handle offers a touch over 3 inch (7.6 cm) of purchase, and that’s not quite enough for me. ESEE does offer the Izula II which has an extra half inch of handle, which I feel would be just about perfect. In the future I would like to test one out and do a full comparison, but based on the base Izula model, I can objectively say that the Izula II is most definitely going to be more ergonomic.
As you can see in the photo below, you can link your pinkie finger through the hoop for some extra security if you’re using the Izula without handles of any kind. But once again, the comfort level is less than ideal.
Balance point to weight ratio of the Izula is basically perfect at a dead even 2 ounces (57 grams). The knife is light and maneuverable in the hand, with just a touch of blade heaviness to encourage you to bite into whatever your cutting. The Izula’s basically got my ideal balance point; ESEE did a bang up job in this department.
Pinch grip on the 2.63 inch (6.7 cm) blade is perfectly viable. The handle of the Izula is relatively neutral, with no deep choils, but rather a progressive inward curve so your fingers will generally be able to maneuver and find a comfortable spot. It should be noted that the grind monkeys who make this knife (Rowen) are renowned for their excellent and almost mystical heat treat on 1095.
The Izula has a very clean full flat grind with decent cutting performance, so it would be ideal to use it even for messy tasks like field dressing and butchering. The edge should definitely hold for a decent period of time, whilst retaining an above average level of tensile strength for any rough work you may want to use the knife for.
The lack of scales or crooks and crannies means that cleaning this blade is as trivial as running it under the tap. I really do appreciate more minimal utilitarian blades, and I truly appreciate ESEE bringing forth so many great options for us minimalism-lovers to get our hands on!
As I’ve said before, the handle is relatively neutral so comfort is fine with the general caveat that a lack of scales means the ergonomics are limited by physics and not design. Someone did ask if you can put your pointing finger through the hole on the butt of the knife, and the answer to that is unless your a pixie – it ain’t gonna happen. The hole is large when compared to the standard sizes one gets on other knives to run paracord lanyards through, but it certainly isn’t a karambit, and as far as I know, it was never intended to be used as such.
Maximum fit will be the pinkie, and even then, it only just about fits. Those with larger hands than I have will even have trouble doing this.
The edge is nicely finished with a clean transition all the way to the spine. Rowen did a bang up job with the edge, and the only issue I had with shaving wood was (not surprisingly!) the discomfort due to the lack of scales. In terms of blade performance though, I was impressed at how well it did at woodworking.
When it comes to smaller blades I tend to favour using pull cuts away from my body. I find it affords me superior control with less energy expenditure, so that’s typically how I’ll be using this blade.
As expected, notching and your standard bushcraft techniques are perfectly doable with the ESEE Izula. The blade of the knife is thin enough behind the edge to make nice clean cuts.
The tip of the ESEE Izula is reinforced to the max. Believe it or not its actually a sturdier point than the Condor Bushlore.
Color me shocked. I personally prefer a sharper tip, and as such I imagine I will regrind the tip to be a touch more stabby. I should add that the Izula does penetrate adequately, but when compared to the Condor Bushlore, its bias towards toughness becomes evident.
The powder coating on the ESEE Izula (and all ESEEs for that matter, since it’s all the same coating) is tough. I scrapped against a fire steel, but whilst the coating did chip, I was not able to generate any sparks. In an emergency, you will want to either have stripped the coating prior, and have made a clean 90 degree angle on the spine, or (unfortunately) be forced to use the edge of the knife.
I am definitely not a fan of using the edge of my knives to generate sparks, and I don’t really encourage anyone to do this either, as it has potential to affect the heat treat, and thus the cutting ability of the blade. As a much better alternative of course, always keep the standard scraper provided with your fire steels handy so you don’t have to use your knife at all. That’s the best option, in my opinion.
Light My Fire Scout 2.0 Firesteel with Emergency Whistle – Amazon
The sheath the Izula comes with reminds me a lot of some of Spyderco’s sheaths (like the ones for the Reverse or the Bill Moran) in terms of sheer mounting options. The ESEE Izula’s sheath construction is injection molded, which is fine by me. I actually prefer a nice injection molded sheath rather than a bad kydex one.
The build quality of the sheath is high, and I noticed zero wiggling with regards to retention. The clip is removable and can be rotated to fit on either side, in a host of different configurations. Options are always appreciated when well implemented, which is the case here.
The ESEE Izula sheath’s clip design is sturdy spring steel with a V-shaped wedge on the end that mates with the sheath. In practice, this means you can either run it through a belt and use it as a belt loop, or you can securely attach it on the inside of your pocket/the inside your waistband. Once again here, plenty of good options.
The Izula becomes very easy to get to, and at no point did I feel that the sheath was insecure. Your knife is definitely not going anywhere.
The ESEE Izula was another tough one for me to review. Aesthetically, and in terms of design ideals, I most certainly am in love. I am extremely biased toward minimal design knives that focus on cutting performance with a complete disregard for whatever the latest gizmos and gadgets are. No, I don’t want a bushcraft blade with an integrated carabiner clip, seat belt cutter, glass breaker, and bottle opener, thank-you very much!
Now get off my lawn, ya damn kids!
Jokes aside, ESEE should be rewarded for sticking with a classic, traditional format that works well. The Izula is austere, but impeccably constructed with absolutely zero fit and finish flaws or manufacturing defects. Out of the box, it’s only downside is the lack of meat on the handle, but that can of course be remedied with the optional scales or a quickie paracord wrap, so there’s absolutely no reason to let that dissuade you!