Cold Steel Trail Master Review: Is It Truly a Master of the Trail?
What's Great
  • Razor sharp blade
  • Excellent multi-functional tool
  • Grippy handle
What Could Be Improved
  • Sheath leaves a bit to be desired
4.7Editor's Rating

Cold Steel Trail Master Review

Cold Steel Trail Master Review


Now this … THIS is a knife my friends (cue Crocodile Dundee). Had Jim Bowie seen this hulk of a knife, Cold Steel would have surely made him proud.

For generations knives have been necessary for clearing brush, hunting, fishing, and all around survival. It’s nothing new. All that has changed is newer and more sophisticated technology. The function of a knife still serves for many of the same purposes.

What You Get Out of The Box:

  • Razor sharp 9.5 inch blade
  • Constructed with O-1 OR San Mai III high carbon steel and full tang
  • Ergonomic and grippy kray-ex handle
  • Weighing 16.7 ounces – although feels lighter than you would think
  • Equipped with a Secure-Ex sheath

So, the question that I will look to answer in this review today is quite simple: does the Cold Steel Trail Master live up to its self-appointed name?


Overview Impressions and Thoughts

The Cold Steel Trail Master is not a new knife or design by any means. The Trail Master has been around since the late 80’s, serving as one of Cold Steel’s flagship and primary knives in their arsenal, quite similar to Buck’s flagship 110. Since its inception, it actually still has many of the same features and characteristics of its first generation, although some updated modifications such as its new steel (0-1).

So, diving in and talking turkey, this is one BIG fixed-blade bowie. Big as in, out of the box you can’t help but marvel at this intimidatingly big 9.5 inch blade reflecting back at you. First impressions give off a pretty and shiny image, but it’s far from just being a display knife. The Trail Master after rigorous testing and certainly unanimous agreement amongst all those who have used this bowie knife, can hold up and endure just about any type of environment and or situation.


What makes this a wicked bowie? Well, what impressed me early on is that it not only has a monstrous blade, but both the blade and tip are razor sharp as well. It has incredible sharpness and strength rounding it out as a very compact bowie.

For some, bowie knives don’t have a true niche or function, and rather operate as a utility knife. The Trail Master has a different purpose, or function if you will, than a machete, hatchet or an axe. As I will detail in this Trail Master review, it is super multi-functional where it can be your work-horse as a survivalist knife in the outdoors, but still operate as a camping or hunting knife as well … far from a one trick pony.


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What Stood Out To You?

Weighing at 16.7 ounces, I would have thought it would have been heavier. However, there’s a pretty general agreement that the Trail Master is not as heavy as the weight would suggest. Weighing about a pound, it still feels really comfortable, and solid in hand, particularly when chopping and brush clearing. As opposed to the weight detracting from the effectiveness of the Trail Master, it actually helps with performance. For instance, it chops well because it is blade heavy (weight is heavier towards the blade).

“Chops well”. That’s definitely one of the strengths of the Cold Steel Trailmaster. As an outdoor survival knife, it has serious chopping power and driving force sinking right in to almost any target you need it to. With sharp downward strokes with the full flat grind, it chops through logs almost like an ax. I’m not sure how much abuse Cold Steel designed it to withstand, but there’s no question that it takes a good punishment.

The weight and strength of the Trail Master allow it to function as a camp knife, trim hedges, bowie knife, bushcraft, overall any type of outdoor work.


Most Importantly: The Blade

First and foremost, to me, the most important part of a knife is the blade. If it can’t perform, then I don’t care how pretty or sparkly it is. The handle can be made out of stag, but if I’m not buying it to sit on display, then it better be functional! And, the blade largely determines that.

A bowie knife is all about functionality, which means that the blade can either make or break it. The Trail Master has quite a blade attached to it. As I mentioned earlier, with a 9.5 inch blade, this thing is intimidating in size. Not just long though. It has a thickness of 5/16”. In other words, that is one thick blade!

The clip point blade is razor sharp, and the thickness of the blade helps to protect it against bending or breaking while in use. I’ve never heard of any positive stories that started with someone stranded with a broken bowie knife in a survival situation.


The Trail Master is certainly blade heavy, which suits it well for chopping and slashing with its rolled edge. The Trail Master’s swedge is a false edge, which actually is a bit sharper than maybe it was designed to be, has a thick full flat grind, and a thick, strong blade.  

The 9.5 inch blade gives you freedom for a lot of different tasks. For instance, the length gives you the ability to baton carefully through the center of a log. It has a razor edge, which is easy to resharpen, and tears right through thick rope, bone, brush, and logs. In a pinch, I don’t see why this bowie can’t serve as a tactical or combat knife. It’s incredibly sharp, and a sharp tip for stabbing.

If you are going to use the Cold Steel Trail Master to baton, you want to be careful. While it certainly can hold up to the task, Cold Steel does not publicly admit it can do that (because of the abuse it can endure). The false edge on the Trail Master is ‘almost’ sharp, which can affect your batoning. I also like the way Cold Steel designed the belly of the bowie since it has a natural slicing and slashing.

Overall the blade is no slouch. It holds an excellent edge, is razor sharp, and for real survival and self-defense situations, you’re in good hands. Building shelter, chopping, splitting logs, the blade just holds up well to being an overall wilderness survival knife.


The Steel!

For those of you steel connoisseurs, the Cold Steel Trail Master has O-1 high carbon steel. This is actually a change from the previous models, which were constructed with SK-5 steel. On the more expensive option, you can also opt for the Trail Master with San Mai III steel (and that is NO joke – more for serious users and collectors).

O-1 is a hard and high-quality steel. It gives the Trail Master its thickness, and toughness. O-1 is a thick steel, although not overly bulky or heavy. However, such a thick and powerful steel has some down sides as well.

You will NEED to maintain the Trail Master blade, or it will rust and get splotchy. Unlike stainless steel, O-1 can and will rust if exposed to humid or wet conditions. It needs to be kept dry and taken care of. To protect the integrity of the blade, you simply need to oil it for long term storage. Oiling it after use will help to preserve the Trail Master for years. And honestly, for the price and quality of this knife, there is no reason not to take exceptional care for it.


Tell Me about The Handle

In my opinion, you’ll either love it, or hate it. The Cold Steel Trail Master has a 5” long Kray-Ex checkered handle. The kraton handle is a squishy, grippy polymer … a sturdy grip even if it feels a bit tacky. Overall, it has relatively good traction on the handle.

Compared to other bowie knives on the market, I wouldn’t say that the Trail Master has a conventional handle design. Based off of the texture, design and materials used, Cold Steel specifically intended for it to not slip out while in use. The issue is that it can have hot spots and burn after prolonged use (if you’re doing extremely intensive work such as batoning). If anything, the Trail Master, and the handle, feels like it is designed more for quick chops as a cutting tool and combat, than batoning. And to that note, batoning logs is more abusive than the purpose that most knives are manufactured, and marketed to be able to do.


The handle has a nice old school double hand guard to help keep your fingers safe, and from sliding on to the blade. It is a brass guard, so you will want to be careful not to scratch it. If you want alternative hand placements, you can choke up over the guard to use it as a choil for whittling sticks and feathering. There is no jimping on the spine, so you will have to use the handle, or the make-shift choil.

Honestly, it’s a pretty good handle. It’s a good length for most average size hands (I have larger hands), and has a really good solid feel in hand. One suggestion would be using the lanyard holes to make sure that it doesn’t fly off for extra insurance. It sits firm in your grasp, but for serious chopping it’s a nice extra precaution. But, even in bloody and muddy conditions, it does a great job maintaining a strong grip.


Trail Master Full Tang Construction

The Trail Master is in fact full tang, but is covered with the rubber handle. This means that the steel extends all the way down from the tip to the bottom of the handle, which is important because it gives it extra strength to take abuse and protect itself from breaking in half when you’re using it on harder surfaces or tasks. Important in a survivalist, outdoor bowie knife because what good can it serve for you if it is in 2 pieces? I would highly recommend looking for a bowie knife that has full tang.


The Sheath Quality

If there’s one complaint that most people have with this monster, this is it. The sheath quality.

The Trail Master comes with a Secure-Ex sheath which features plenty of slits for lashing points, and removable nylon attachments and Velcro so that it can sit on your belt. It has button snap closure and retention around the guard which is SUPPOSED to help keep it in place. The plastic has slots for drainage to help prevent water absorbing and rusting the steel.

The build and feel of the sheath feel good upon first impression. The issue, and something quite a few people can attest to, is unfortunately the strap does a mediocre job at holding the Trail Master in place, allowing for a lot of wiggle room. So, the biggest complaint that I have is with its ability to hold this beast in place.

It’s not all bad. The sheath is easily adjustable for your height on your belt loop and deploys the Trail Master out of the sheath (deploys easily is the benefit to it sitting so loosely). Sits pretty comfortably on your side when going backpacking and hiking (and you can also use the slits for para cord to tie it to your backpack).

Overall, if there’s a weak point about the Trail Master that brings it back to planet Earth, it’s definitely the sheath.


The Price

The Cold Steel Trail Master is definitely not the cheapest bowie knife on the market. I’ve always wanted one, but when you start to cross the $100 mark, you want to make sure that a knife really warrants it (custom quality). And you start to really consider … do I need it? Will it have a purpose in my collection?

After reviewing all parts of the Trail Master, my personal opinion is that it is priced pretty reasonable for what it is. Of course, there are some things that I wish Cold Steel would improve upon, such as the quality of the sheath, and ways to reduce hot spots on the handle. However, taking a step back and looking at the Trail Master, I have to admit … it’s a pretty dang good knife.

Cold Steel has obviously put a lot of time, care and love into the Trail Master, and it shows. It’s a multi-functional tool that means business. No, it is not a $50 knife, but if you’re serious about bushcraft, hiking or outdoor survival, it’s always important to have a knife that you can depend on if you were ever in dire need. This is the type of knife that you can take with you and know that it could handle its own.

 As opposed to something like a hunting knife that has a dedicated purpose, this isn’t one of many that you would need, but often, the only knife you would need with you as a trusty companion … as you master the trail.

Looking at the price tag, I realize it’s also important to factor in the quality of the materials and steel that construct the Trail Master, and for that, I think at its current price at the time of this review, it is a very good buy. Not cheap, not incredibly expensive, somewhere right in the middle.


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All Right Great! So, What Is The Verdict?


Cold Steel Trail Master Review


I think I largely summed up my feelings above in the Price section.

The Cold Steel Trail Master is a very strong, and thick bowie knife for the money. I found it to be a super knife for outdoor work, bushcraft and hiking. With a razor sharp blade, and tough steel, it is the type of knife that can do many things well. This makes it valuable so that you will not necessarily need to bring 10 other knives when going to the woods. Although, let’s face it, we can’t help it. It’s a fun knife for sure, and if you’re looking for a serious bowie, you won’t be disappointed with the Trail Master.

Cold Steel’s iconic Trail Master still holds its own, even with so many new knives and manufacturers flooding the market. I must give credit where credit is due, and so I would be amiss to not recommend this monster. The Trail Master lives up to its lofty name, and I would say is certainly a master of the trail.

I hope that my Trail Master review has helped to provide clarity by looking at all aspects of this knife! I’d love to know your thoughts as well, if you agree, or disagree!


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Editor’s Rating: 4.7 / 5.0

What’s Great:

  • Good quality and reasonable value for its current price
  • Excellent tool for most outdoor situations. Perfect as a survivalist knife, or for camping and hiking
  • Razor sharp thick blade can penetrate and cleave through most objects that you throw in its way. Almost as powerful as a machete without all of the bulk.
  • Classic bowie design
  • Extremely durable steel and strong blade

What Could Be Improved:

  • A bowie knife of this quality would be better served paired with a higher-end sheath.
  • The sheath while ‘OK’ leaves a lot to be desired by allowing the Trail Master wiggle room to rattle around.

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