ESEE, the company f.k.a. RAT Knives, brought out the Hostile Environment Survival Tool designed by war zone journalist Robert Young Pelton a few years ago and it has been a success ever since. It is no longer made by ESEE, so I picked up one for a good price from a vendor that still had a few.
I was always doubtful if the initial hype over the knife was justified. ESEE knives are known for their simple & sound design, but the HEST is a somewhat “complicated” knife. The most obvious “adventure features” present are the bottle opener on the blade spine (it also serves as a very convenient lashing point for cord when you want to improvise a spear), the wire breaker at the root of the edge and the crowbar at the lower end of the handle.
Less obvious is the fact that the micarta scales are hollowed out and in conjunction with the skeleton handle will allow you to store smallish items underneath them. Much more than a few matches, a striking surface, fishing hooks will not fit, however. Check the screws from time to time.
There are many excellent in-depth-reviews on the knife to be found on the wide web, so I´ll keep mine short : The HEST is made out of 1095 carbon steel, with a flat ground blade almost 5mm thick that offers 9cm mostly curved cutting edge. It is still very lightweight, has superior workmanship and fits my hand like it was made for it. That is reason enough for me to own a knife! Some knives feel just right, some don´t. Even a week after receiving it, I find it hard to put it down once I pick it up, always on the lookout for things to cut. The coating holds up very well, too, in daily cutting tasks.
I could live without the bottle opener. Or I wish it would have been integrated in the tang end somehow. You can open a beer bottle with the unsharpened portion of the spine just as effectively, but you will wear away the blade coating very (!) quickly in the process. If you carry the HEST concealed in a third world country shaken by civil wars, is it smart to give away the fact that you carry a knife when opening a beer bottle ? I dunno.
The wire breaker has been cursed by some hunters as it has a tendency to catch on hide. The prybar does not affect usage of the knife in a negative way, though it could ruin the lining of your jacket sometime. On the other hand, it helps with a positive draw in emergencies.
Yes, the HEST would make an excellent defensive knife, more so than all folders on the market, as it doesn´t need to be opened. In fact, I consider the ESEE knife to be a very viable alternative to modern “tactical folders” as it much stronger by nature (a LOT cheaper than most, too!) and can be carried almost as easily.
The kydex sheath is very well fitted, the holes in it will adapt to a large Teklok or you can carry it with the supplied MOLLE locks. Another good alternative is lashing it to your belt, vest, shoulder harness, simply using 550 paracord or some cable ties. The possibilities are endless.
I see no reason for the existence of the HEST folder made by Lionsteel other than marketing “genius”. It is like moving backwards in a forward direction! This knife was designed to be a tough alternative to folding knives for the weight-conscious person that travels a lot, so why do we need a folding version ? Pilots should also like small survival knives that can take some abuse. For the woodsman, the HEST is not be the first choice (an Esee 4 is just about perfect for that), but it will help you make fire and shelter just as well as any other knife in its size range.
If you like it as it was made by ESEE, get one fast while the remaining supplies last! I have already ordered a spare, having sold some other stuff to fund it. Not only for collecting purposes. I like the HEST that much and I´m not sure if the features of the second generation will appeal to me as much. I can give no better praise to a knife than securing myself a second sample.