Typically, GearJunkie deals in superlatives — the Best Camp Stoves, the Best Sleeping Bags, the Best Camping Tents. With so many new models year after year, the annual updates to these guides reflect the latest advancements in each field.
But for me personally, there’s one “best” that has not changed in at least 6 years: the LT Wright GNS. I continually herald this knife as the “Best Bushcraft” or all-around fixed blade. At least, it was the best — until 2 weeks ago, when White River Knife & Tool delivered a test model of its Ursus 45 ($250).
The company’s product description is brief and to the point: “The White River Ursus 45 is a no frills workhorse. The ergonomic handle design allows for hours of comfortable use. This is the go-to knife in the wild for food prep, processing firewood, carving tools, and building shelter.”
Sounds like a tool after my own heart. And with the linguistic roots and astronomical ties of its naming, this particular bear has all the necessities of a truly special outdoor blade.
In short: The Ursus 45 is arguably the best all-around fixed blade for outdoors enthusiasts. Through its outstanding and versatile cutting performance, excellent fit and finish, and impressive in-hand comfort, White River Knives has produced something that’s truly special. Lovers of bushcraft, firecraft, and general campsite cooking will be hard-pressed to find a tool that cannot just serve for each of these tasks, but also excel.
- Blade length 4.5"
- Overall length 9.5"
- Blade thickness 0.158"
- Blade steel CPM S35VN (58-60 HRC)
- Overall weight 8.3 oz.
- Handle material Micarta
- Sheath Kydex (leather available)
- Outstanding cutting performance
- Impressive in-hand comfort
- S35VN steel
- Wonderful sheath
- Firestarting prowess
- Could use a thumb ramp on the sheath
- High (but justified) price
White River Knife & Tool Ursus 45 Fixed-Blade Review
First impressions count. And in this case, my initial experience with the Ursus was laughable.
One expects to cry when cutting up onions, but from the very first slice of a Jumbo White, my jaw dropped and a chuckle emerged. There’s no way that a knife with a spine this thick should be able to produce such thin slices so effortlessly. I made an entire batch of potato salad with the Ursus 45 as my primary tool, and the experience was as delicious as the eventual taste.
This is a knife that blew me away from the get-go, from its outstanding sharpness and grind to its universally comfortable handle. White River Knife and Tool have made a premium piece, through and through, and everything about the Ursus 45 screams, “capable quality.”
A Bear in the Field
Choosing the Latin naming convention here (“Ursus” meaning bear) feels appropriate, since carrying this knife in the woods is like having the Platonic Form of a fixed blade — in prototypical perfection — dangling at your side. The Kydex sheath is immensely comfortable, and the Ursus is a breeze to draw and stow. And its geometry cut through branches like the power of math itself.
I very much like what the designers have done with the handle. My tester came in “Black Burlap” Micarta, but other available flavors include “Natural” and “Black/O.D. Linen.” Its grip is broad enough to accommodate most hands, and the palm swell is bracketed by subtle guards at the fore and aft.
From a visual standpoint, this is a good-looking knife. White River’s branding is tasteful, and the polish on its steel is attractive. The Kydex sheath and its fasteners are well-done, and I like the matching shades of the Micarta on the handle and fire steel.
Ursus Versus the Best
It’s been a long time since I’ve encountered a fixed blade that ticks so many boxes. Which leads to one inevitable question.
For years, I’ve been recommending the LT Wright GNS as the best overall camp/bushcraft combo knife. With its versatile blade, rugged steel, and outstanding handle comfort, many knives have tried (and failed) to knock it off its pedestal.
While I won’t say that the Ursus 45 is universally superior to my beloved GNS, it makes a compelling argument. The blade on the Ursus is thicker, taller, and every inch as capable of producing both delicate and aggressive cuts.
S35VN steel is also significantly harder and more stain resistant than the GNS O1, though perhaps a bit more challenging to sharpen in the field. I like the rounded, broomstick-type handle of the LT Wright more, but only by the barest fraction. And when it comes to firecraft, the Ursus features a slight improvement to the ready excellence of my previous favorite.
There are very few faults in the Ursus’ stars. I could find only one, in fact: The lack of a thumb ramp on the sheath. When drawing the blade, you’ll need to push against a narrow strip of Kydex in order to gain the necessary leverage. It’s not exactly uncomfortable, but could become annoying after repeated retrievals.
True, the Ursus 45 costs a bit more. But there’s also slightly more of it, and both knives offer outstanding fit and finish.
Conclusion: White River Knife & Tool Ursus 45 Fixed-Blade Review
The Ursus 45 is a knife that would make enthusiasts stop. That might not sound like a compliment, but it’s the highest praise I can give.
A tool like this means that you can stop looking — no more agonizing over the latest models, dealing with pros and cons, or lugging multiple fixed blades on a camping trip.
The Ursus 45 offers the kind of freedom I’m looking for in a do-everything trail companion, as it lets you focus more on the wilderness and less on what’s riding on your belt. And every time you draw it from the sheath, you can look down and think, “Damn. That’s a nice knife.”
To some degree, I think this compliment can be extended to White River’s catalog in general. At present, the company has 23 items in its stable, most of which offer a clear sense of purpose and vision. It’s the antithesis of the knife glut I’ve railed against in the past.
“More” is not better. Thoughtful design, functional excellence, and manufacturing know-how are better, and the Ursus 45 is among the very best.