When it comes to knives, the word “minimalist” can be a turn-off. Sure, in the backpacking community it’s synonymous with “sacrifice” — folks drilling holes in their toothbrushes and sleeping under tarps instead of in tents — but when it comes to knives, I don’t want to sacrifice a thing.
But when SOG uses “minimalist” with “reliable and versatile” to describe the Altair FX fixed blade — and then calls it the “perfect backpacking knife” — I’m all ears and eager to take the bait. After all, I am a sucker for accessible fixed-blade knives.
The Altair FX aims for the sweet spot; a knife you can hang off your pack strap or belt, and not feel encumbered by its presence. It’s also a thin, fast-looking knife, thanks to its overall shape and clip point blade. I had to put it to the test to see if it could live up to all its potential.
In short: If you’re looking for a full-featured knife that takes a minimalist approach to its form factor, SOG’s Altair FX ($150) is that knife. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in all of the myriad tasks you didn’t know it could tackle at first glance.
- OAL 7.60”
- Blade length 3.40"
- Blade steel 154CM
- Blade shape Clip point
- Grind Flat
- Hardness 58-60
- Sheath GRN w/UMS
- Weight 2.8 oz. (4.1 oz. w/sheath)
- Price $150
- Cryogenically processed, TiNi Coated 154CM Blade steel
- Overall design and ergonomics
- UMS sheath
- I really can’t find one here
SOG Altair FX: Review
Design and Features
The Altair FX is made from a solid piece of cryo-dipped 154CM. When you cryogenically process steel, you push to remove imperfections in the metal on a molecular level. This generally makes the knife steel more corrosion- and abrasion-resistant, but in the case of 154CM, it also improves the edge retention.
Taking the Altair FX’s corrosion and abrasion resistance a step further, SOG opted to coat the steel in Titanium Nitride (TiNi). This coating is used a lot in manufacturing on cutting tools, punches, etc. It helps reduce friction and can prolong the life of the steel.
One final noteworthy feature on the Altair FX, sure to satiate dyed-in-the-wool minimalists, is the user’s ability to remove the FRN handle scales. Most of this knife’s weight rests in its steel, but removing the scales brings it down from 2.8 ounces to 2.2 ounces.
This brings the whole package, with sheath, to 4. 5 ounces.
Part of accessibility is size. The other part of accessibility rests in the way a knife carries. The sheath on the Altair FX, featuring SOG’s Universal Mountain System (UMS) is all about accessibility.
SOG uses this system on the Glass Reinforced Nylon (GRN) sheath for a few of its fixed-blade knives. In fact, I am testing out the Tellus FX as well, and it has the same setup, just larger in scale. I’m impressed. The system consists of a slotted triangular piece, a metal belt clip, and hardware.
The slotted triangle allows you to orient the belt clip in any direction you wish. T8 bolts hold the clip securely, but the whole contraption is bound to create frustration if it loosens up. I experienced this firsthand when I adjusted the clip. It proved more cumbersome than complicated, but once you get the hang of it, I think you’ll appreciate it.
Brass tacks — it’s par for the course. If you want universal carry, there will be moving pieces. The trade-off: This is the only part of the knife you’ll need to maintain over the long run.
You can rotate the belt clip 360 degrees to adjust for strap angles and personal carry preferences. Conversely, you could also remove the UMS and utilize the strap-specific notch on the sheath itself to lash it down. It fits a 1-inch strap or MOLLE webbing perfectly.
Additionally, both the handle scales and the blade feature a ton of texture, touchpoints, and jimping for enhanced operation.
The first thing I thought of when I received the Altair FX was fishing. Better yet, lashing it to my fishing vest or pack for quick access and ease of use. The blade will hold up to fresh water, and with the TiNi coating, it would take a lot of salt water exposure to corrode it.
In the Field
I never had a chance to take the Altair FX fishing with me, but I bet it could gut and prep a fish with ease. It did great slicing up steak, potatoes, and peppers for a Fourth of July celebration by the river. But the waters were a little too wild to go fishing, let alone catch one to fillet.
The knife is quick and easy to maneuver, and will even execute precision tasks. This is no doubt due in part to the TiNi coating, which is akin to the nonstick coating on your favorite frying pan.
It’s also great for fire prep. I had a blast batoning kindling with the Altair to start a small fire on the beach.
In terms of bringing it on an adventure, the Altair FX basically disappears when you carry it. This makes it great for an all-around knife that you can strap on to help with work around the yard, out at camp, on the trail, or wherever you need a knife but may not have a belt or any specific means to carry it. Like Rambo — sometimes all he had was his knife, no other gear. The Altair FX is not a Rambo-sized knife, but I bet the two would perform the same, head-to-head.
I picked wine berries quite a bit over the last few weeks, and used the Altair FX to cut and move vines to get better access to the berries. All I did was tuck the Altair into the waistband of my shorts.
SOG Altair FX: Conclusion
I love big, bulky belt knives that you can dig holes with, or (in a serious emergency) throw at a bear to stun them. But, I will always make room for a small form-factor belt knife that can take on larger jobs. The Altair FX is all of that, with the promise of easy carry and easy access.
The cryo-processed 154CM on this knife really holds up to everything. I think it would have done just fine without the TiNi coating, but the added benefits of having it will keep this knife knocking around long enough for you to pass it on to your kids.
I won’t lie — I’m bummed I didn’t get to take it fishing. I think the Altair FX would make a terrific fishing buddy. When you’re out standing in the middle of the river with waders on — mosquitos flying all around you — the last thing you want to do is fidget around to get out your knife. There’s no fidgeting with the Altair FX. It’s all about ease.
If you want something minimal, versatile, reliable, and accessible, you can’t go wrong with the SOG Altair FX. I ended up passing this one on to my best friend for his birthday and I’ve considered asking for it back.