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Reviews > Knives > Fixed Blade > Helle Algonquin Knife > Test Report by Rick Dreher
HELLE Algonquin Knife
I enjoy going high and light and frequently take shorter "fast- packing" trips. My longest trips are a week or so. I've lightened my pack load because I enjoy hiking more when toting less, I can go farther and over tougher terrain, and I have cranky ankles. I use trekking poles and generally hike solo or tandem. I've backpacked all over the U.S. West and now primarily hike California's Sierra Nevada. My favorite trips are alpine and include off-trail travel and sleeping in high places. When winter arrives, I head back for snowshoe outings in the white stuff.
Product Information & Specs
Model: Helle Algonquin
Design & Description
Overview and Description—The Helle Algonquin is a simple knife comprising a fixed steel blade and a hardwood handle that has a pommel (button for the sheath) at the end. The included leather sheath has a removable lanyard for wearing from the neck, but no belt loop. A sheath keeper tab fits over the pommel to anchor the knife in the sheath.
Design and Materials—The Algonquin is compact and in my view, a knife sized well for backpacking, especially compared the Jim Bowie-scale monstrosities I often see. ("Nice machete, will it chop onions?") Total length is 6.3 inches (162mm), with the blade accounting for 2.8 inches (72 mm). Blade shape is "normal" in knife terminology, with a straight back that the cutting edge curves up to meet at the point. The edge is ground symmetrically, befitting the blade laminations described below. The Algonquin is basically the size of a typical kitchen paring knife, but compared to my paring knives the blade is much stiffer, implying suitability for chopping more than for peeling or skinning. The handle contours match my hand and include a subtle finger guard and thumb notch to aid grip. The mostly oakwood handle is matte-finished, smooth and warm to the touch. The full-grain leather sheath is molded to the knife's shape and stitched along the blade end. The knife tucks into it perhaps three-quarters of the way and as noted, a tab closes over the pommel to keep the knife in place. The leather lanyard can be removed as desired, and is sized for wearing the knife from the neck.
The Algonquin blade is a lamination of carbon steel between two stainless layers, a configuration that protects the hard but rust-prone edge material with added strength and oxidation protection. For a succinct description, here's Helle: "The core is made of high alloy steel which gives it a lasting, razor-sharp edge. This harder layer cannot however exclude the threat of rust or breakage. To exploit the superb qualities of the high alloy steel we added two layers of tough stainless steel (18/8) to protect the blade against breakage and corrosion, while the high carbon core still provides a superb cutting edge. This triple laminated stainless steel is unique to our knife blades."
Support & Documentation
The Algonquin ships with a general knife owner's manual and a separate detailed Algonquin model description. The manual, plus Helle's webpage provide detailed blade maintenance information for both sharpening and honing. They recommend diamond or "hard fine-grained sandstone" whetstones for sharpening and caution against overheating the blade should honing ever be needed for a very dull or damaged edge (honing, being for very dull knives that need metal removed to restore the edge). Occasional grease or oil applications are recommended; I presume this is especially warranted in marine environments. Sheath care consists of occasionally using a penetrating agent, specifying, "non-acidic grease or wax." With no moving parts the maintenance list is blissfully short.
Let me get this out of the way: the Algonquin is beautiful. Both sheath and the knife itself evoke old-world materials and craft, this corner of the old world being a Norwegian seaside village where the Helle factory overlooks an actual fjord. The majority of knives I use come from modern factories, while the handmade Algonquin is a throwback that nevertheless appears as suitable for rigorous use as any high-tech alternative.
In addition to fit the balance is also very good, not front-heavy. Grip is secure inside a dry and warm house; I'll eventually find how it is outdoors with cold, wet hands. I also need to decide how to carry the Algonquin hiking. Am unlikely to hang it from my neck while wearing a pack so do I stash it in the pack or find another way to keep it handy? Keeping it in my pants pocket as I would a folding knife seems out. A second, short piece of leather lacing supplied with the knife is undocumented, but perhaps a storage substitute for the neck lanyard? I might work with that, or look at other avenues for anchoring the knife.
The Helle Algonquin is ideally sized and shaped for how I use a knife hiking or backpacking. Being fixed-blade and not a folder, it's on the large side during transport yet is relatively light. The laminated blade has zero flex and I have no qualms about having it as my sole knife on a multiday trip.
Field test locations and conditions
I carried the Algonquin into the Tahoe-region Sierra Nevada on two day hikes and two overnights. It was cloudy and rainy on a day hike, sunny and warm the rest of the time. Iíve settled on keeping the knife and sheath in an outside pack pocket, anchoring the lanyard in case it works free. Itís easy enough to get from a side pocket even while wearing a pack, so not a bad compromise versus a pocket knife. Am finding the sheathís keeper tab pops free from the knife frequently, so donít completely trust it. Hopefully, as the leather softens it will happen less often.
Following my typical camp life, I mostly prepped food with the Algonquin. In the initial report I note how it has a thicker blade than a typical paring knife, and thatís how it works in practice. In my best Ron Popeil voice, these are the results.
SlicingóThe very sharp blade easily slices various ingredients, including vegetables, cheese, fresh meat and sausage. Compared to a well-sharpened paring knife, I feel the Algonquin takes more force to slice all the way though and Iím confident thatís the blade thickness at play. The handle size and contour help with control.
ChoppingóThis is more of an adventure than slicing. The wedgy blade edge tends to send chopped pieces flying, and chopping pieces very thin, such as garlic slices, is not easy. I can do it, but my pieces are not consistent. Mincing into smaller bits is easier as the pieces donít scatter as far.
PeelingóAs an aid to peeling onions and garlic, the knife is really good. The sharp blade catches the thin layers and makes them easy to remove. Other peeling challenges, like carrots, potatoes, mangos and such are a lot more challenging; frankly, Iím not very good with any knife, preferring a dedicated kitchen peeler. Regardless, I could do it with the Algonquin, just at the loss of a lot of carrot or whatever, as my peelings are pretty thick and uneven.
Gutting fishóStep 1: catch fish. Once I complete step 1 Iíll get back to yíall. I blame the drought.
General Camp Use
Once in camp I find the neck lanyard good for keeping the knife handy, and it doesnít bother me if I keep it inside my jacket or shirt so itís not bouncing about or hanging up in the bushes.
The Algonquin is good for shaving fire tinder and sharpening stakes from small branches. Really goodóthey chose a good combination of stout and sharp and I find myself wondering why I ever wanted a larger knife than this. But Iím not seventeen anymore.
The Algonquin remains sharp and Iíve not sharpened it yet. Itís lost the factory mirror finish but that only means Iím using it, since a fine knife deserves to be used.
Field Report Summary
The Helle Algonquin is an excellent knife to bring hiking and backpacking. Itís fairly small and light to carry and well-designed for my typical campsite and trailside tasks. Itís also a pleasure to use such a nicely crafted tool.
Possible Areas for Improvement
Long-Term test locations and conditions
During July I carried the Algonquin for a week in Lassen Volcanic Park and in August brought it on a four-day camping and day-hiking trip to Yosemite. Weather for both trips was clear and warm and elevations ranged from about 4,000 to 8,000 feet (1,220 - 2,440 m). Coldest night was right at freezing while the high was a stifling 90 F (32 C).
Again, I and others used the knife mostly for meal prep. Camp chores were limited to cutting line, shaving fire tinder, fashioning stakes and the like. My string of being skunked fishing is unbroken this summer, so I'm at least consistent there (in my defense, there was no water to fish where we were in Yosemite, while the Lassen Park fish just laughed).
Observations, wear & tear
The Algonquin worked as nicely as before and with added experience I'm a little better with fiddly kitchen prep. The chunky blade can still send slices flying, but if I anticipate it I can generally prevent this or at least corral the bits within my workspace. As before, balance and fit are great, it's never slippery and I find the knife ideal for camp chores. Such a pleasure to use.
I became accustomed to hanging the knife from my neck in camp and stowing it in an outside pack pocket on the move. Forgoing a pocket knife proved a non-issue on the trail. It turns out there's just not much call for trailside whittling (who knew?).
Finding the blade slightly dulled from new I've honed it with a kitchen steel. This improved it subtly and I should add that the blade remains quite sharp and does not yet warrant sharpening—the difference being sharpening involves removing blade material to restore the edge, while honing realigns the edge without grinding off any steel. I had expected to do some sharpening during the test but the blade simply doesn't yet require it. I take this as testament to how durable the blade really is—were it like my kitchen knives I'd have sharpened it by now. My go-to test is whether a knife can slice a garden-ripe tomato without smooshing it and the Algonquin still can, even if the slices aren't super thin. It's on the edge (pardon the pun) with biting outer onion skin, which is more difficult than the tomato test. At some point so there's an Algonquin sharpening in my future.
The handle's original sheen has dulled as the wood dries. To attempt a restoration I've tried a couple furniture polishes I found around the house but they didn't last, so the search continues for something (oil, wax, polish) that durably restores the wood's deep glow. The blade is still shiny and the sheath is quite nice as well.
Conclusions, future use
After these testing months I love carrying and using the Algonquin. The size, balance and fit all suit me to a "T" and the ease of use all add to a knife I consider safe to use. After trying numerous serrated and combination blades over the years, I find a smooth edge like the Algonquin's the best match for 90% of my needs. And while the somewhat thick blade profile might not be ideal for kitchen prep it's still suitable while being rugged enough for more challenging tasks than peeling garlic.
Will I continue using the Algonquin as my backpacking blade? I definitely will!
My grateful thanks to Helle Knives and BackpackGeartest.org for the opportunity to test the Algonquin!
Portion of this report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.
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Reviews > Knives > Fixed Blade > Helle Algonquin Knife > Test Report by Rick Dreher