TV personality knives have always gotten a bad rap from the bushcraft community. Far too often companies overplay their hands and throw in marketing crap into a tool that is supposed to be practical in nature. This pessimism isn’t helped with products like the first “Survivorman” knife I reviewed, which if you remember didn’t go down so well. When I heard Helle had teamed up with Les to create his ideal bushcraft knife, the Helle Temagami, I was tentatively hopeful. Helle is an old school company from Norway and I just don’t see them throwing in some obnoxious branding or colour scheme just to sell a few more knives to fans of the show.
And I was right. This is a legit, honest-to-goodness bushcraft knife that evokes the same aesthetic lines as the Ray Mears Bushcraft Knife or the Condor equivalent. Obviously, the Temagami has a few quirks that make it very interesting (in my opinion), but the point I want to stress before we get on with the review is that this is a tool that I genuinely see Les Stroud using. The Temagami is a true Scandinavian blade, which happens to be molded to fit Les Stroud’s own biases when it comes to a cutting tool.
The Helle Temagami is the first “famous survivalist designed” product tie in that I feel really speaks to the essence of the individual. It’s common for TV personalities to license their brand, but it’s rare for me to handle these products and really feel like this is what the individual would use if cameras weren’t watching. A good example would be the Bear Grylls Parang – I personally really dig that machete, but I pretty much ignore the branding and genuinely question how much influence Bear Grylls had with that design beyond making sure people knew it had his name on it.
Visually, beyond the super clean Scandinavian line and very pretty handles, the Temagami doesn’t strike me as anything other than a well made “standard” bushcraft knife. Its design is conservative in nature and its cutting bias is heavily geared towards wood processing and comfort. Nothing about this knife screams “Hollywood marketing ploy,” and that’s a good thing. These bushcraft knives tend to all look (more or less) the same for a reason: it works, folks.
You can’t really beat a Scandi ground 4 inch blade and nicely shaped curly birch handles for general use. Too often a designer will go crazy with a specific requirement or feature and it will ruin the feel of the knife for general tasks. Every quirk this knife has is designed to complement its general purpose – not supplant it.
Interestingly, Helle opted to go with a 3/4 full tang (more on this further below). I personally really dig this as it makes the knife far more comfortable in cold conditions. Obviously, I speak as a former resident of the Great North, but if you look at traditional Scandinavian designs, they tend to be stick tangs. This is for a very good reason – cold steel (pun unintended) and exposed skin are two things that just don’t mix well.
The shaping of the handle is nicely neutral compared to the “skinny” hourglass options by Bark River (like the Bravo). I personally prefer this as I like bigger handles. As far as comfort goes, the Temagami is probably the most comfortable knife I have ever handled, and due to its neutral design, I imagine this would be the same for you regardless of the size of your hands.
So as you can see, the tang goes all the way down. People often associate 3/4 full tangs as a cost saving measure, but it’s actually more expensive to produce than a true full tang. The tolerances have to be much tighter and you really don’t lose much steel by going this route. That said, you do shave enough weight that it is noticeable. This knife weighs in at 153 grams, which is damn impressive, and the resulting balance is perfect.
The Temagami feels almost like an extension of your arm when you are actually using it; something that the bulkier “survival/bushcraft” knives frequently fail at.
Balance is important for bushcraft because when it comes to a bushcraft knife’s tasks, they are varied. If your blade is very long and heavy, it will limit your ability to do detailed carving. If it’s too small and light with a bias towards the handle, then its ability to exert pressure with larger tasks, like cutting large branches to size, will be more work than it should be. When you have a tool that’s supposed to be your only companion in the woods, it’s a balancing act to get the right amount of blade and weight.
I think Helle/Les Stroud nailed it with this one, and the balance is comparable to the excellent Condor Bushlore, which I really love.
Unlike the more tactical survival knives, the Temagami has curves and shapes designed to encourage proper grips for the proper job. No obnoxious guards here. You can pinch or choke your way up with zero difficulty. Speaking of grips, no hot spots of any kind regardless of how I held the knife. I think this is a consequence of using natural materials like wood without obsessing over aggressive swoops and contours. It fills your palm in a very natural way.
In terms of in-hand retention, I don’t have an issue with that, but then again I have always been happy with the feel of the classic Moras. Maybe I am just old and stuck in my ways. In any case, bare in mind that this knife isn’t textured and offers zero jimping. Perfectly fine by me, but your mileage may vary.
In terms of actual performance, it’s a box standard high end Scandinavian knife. 3 mm thick blade stock made of laminated stainless or carbon steel. I chose the carbon steel version denoted by a CA attached to the end of the name, but that’s a superficial bias. I like carbon steel, but frankly if you gave me the stainless version, I wouldn’t notice much difference (if any). The grind of the edge is super clean and whilst the handles do differ from one batch to the next (byproduct of the handmade element of this knife) the blade is meticulously ground and sharpened with a beautiful mirror polish.
Out of the box sharpness was above average (Spyderco levels), and the Temagami’s carving ability was what you would expect: phenomenal.
Reviewing bushcraft knives is always interesting to me because they all share such similarities, and performance on wood insofar as the cutting goes tends to be almost identical. The difference for me is the comfort whilst cutting; that is the difference between a good and a bad bushcraft knife. It’s not hard to make a good wood carver. The “recipe” is generic – 3 mm – 5 mm thick blade stock, Scandinavian ground to a zero edge, and that blade will feather sticks and carve spoons all day long.
The real issue is: how will your hands feel after a few hours of carving? That’s the real question, and as for the Helle Temagami – my hands will feel just fine, thank you very much. When it comes to cutting, I favour reversing the blade as you can see below (Ray Mears has influenced my style, as he was my first introduction to bushcraft), and this Helle was natural and comfortable regardless of how I handled the blade. It’s so nice to have a knife that is so meaty and comfortable out of the box.
The obvious comparison is the Condor Bushlore, but the reality is that the Condor is a budget product with rougher finish and boxy’ish handles. They need some work before reaching the level of comfort the Helle Temagami out-of-box provides. I don’t think I could “improve” the ergonomics of this knife, not even a little bit.
Edge retention is above average thanks to the superb steel and rockwell hardness of 58HRC’ish (this is a guess based on my impressions). I can’t comment much on the metallurgy as the advertising doesn’t mention the exact composition. I would wager that the carbon steel core is something similar to 1095 and the stainless steel cladding is equivalent to 420. In practical terms, it’s relatively stain resistant outside of the edge itself and toughness is superb due to the laminated construction.
Something to note for those who want their knives to always look pristine – the stainless steel outer layer is relatively soft and thus will 100% get scratches if you baton with it, as I did.
Batoning is a breeze as expected. No uncomfortable vibrations unlike my experiences with the Cold Steel Bushman. The Helle Temagami tears through wood without mercy and your only limitation will be the length of the blade. Significantly better than your average Mora and on par with my L.T. Wright Genesis.
The best thing about the Helle Temagami is something I rarely see discussed. The blade likes to bite downwards as you can see below. It’s not a straight slab and the real world consequence of this design choice is that cutting and carving feels very natural with a very natural bite. This is significantly different from the bulk of bushcraft knives on the market and something that I think should be adopted as the industry norm. That slight downward slope means that despite having a straight edge, it feels almost like a recurve when you pull a branch towards you as you carve.
It’s hard to explain, but I think you get what I am saying here.
As for carrying options, it comes with a super simple leather sheath. Retention is solid, construction is solid, stitching is solid. You know what? It’s simply solid.
I would have liked a firesteel hoop, but I know the stainless steel cladding isn’t optimal for that, so I understand the oversight. I should mention that the lanyard hole is large and can handle pretty much any lanyard. I personally shan’t be using any, doesn’t feel right with a bushcraft knife, but I know some of you will appreciate that.
Nothing in this knife was added to push a product or to make it “unique” for the sake of marketing. This is simply a really solid bushcraft knife with some really smart quirks that happened to be influenced/designed by Les Stroud and this is something noteworthy in this day and age. So many new survival knives get released every year with new crap attached to them or “multi-feature blades” that look like garbage, but can open bottles, etc. etc.
It’s a sad state of affairs. The Helle Temagami is in one word, honest. It’s an honest knife that doesn’t try to be something it’s not, and I applaud Les & Helle for that, especially after the weirdness that was the Camillus Survivorman SK Mountain.
So, should you buy it? If you want a high end bushcraft knife with superb ergonomics, then I reckon it’s a solid bet.
I don’t see anyone ever handling the Helle Temagami and being unhappy. I used the terms neutral and balanced excessively during this review and honestly, that’s what it is.
I can’t comment on anything specific like the lock or unique blade shape because its simply a well balanced 4″ bushcraft knife with best-in-class ergonomics and a nice downward bite.
Make of that what you will. As for me – this is now my go-to outdoor blade.