Spyderco Schempp Rock review

Even if they aren’t the most practical fixed blades you can buy, there’s something appealingly primal about a big, chopper-style knife.  It makes you feel tough—ready for anything—when you’re carrying around a big 6”, 7”, or 8” chopper.

We don’t often need knives for high-impact tasks like chopping or batoning, but it’s nice knowing that we can do it if we need to.  I don’t think that a chopper should be anybody’s primary outdoor knife, but I do think it’s important to have one around for when you do need it.


Spyderco makes a fair number of fixed blades, but really only one that approaches the chopper category, and that’s the Spyderco Schempp Rock.  It is a design that only Spyderco would make: bold, functional, and strange.  It looks a little bit like a kukri, a little bit like Busse, and a whole lot like nothing you’ve ever seen before.  It combines Ed Schempp’s fascination with ethnic blade shapes and ergonomics with the big blade design ethos. 

It’s intriguing, and a bit weird, but does it work?

The short answer is yes.  The long answer is, well, more complicated.  The Rock is a very good knife, but now more than ever before there are a lot of really good, hard-use outdoor knives.  The Rock stood out when it first released, but is it able to keep our interest amidst the competition?

We’ll get to the bottom of exactly that in this very in-depth review.

Before we get started, please use our table below to compare the Spyderco Schempp Rock to a handful of other great knives.

Cold Steel SRKCold Steel Survival Rescue Knife (SRK)$$$
Gerber LMF II Survival KnifeGerber LMF II Survival Knife$$$
Ka-Bar Fighting KnifeKa-Bar Fighting Knife$$
Esee-3ESEE Knives 3P$$$
SOG S37-K Seal Team KnifeSOG Seal Team S37-K$$$
cold-steel-recon-1Cold Steel Recon 1$$$

The Rock is classic Ed Schempp

Ed Schempp is a frequent Spyderco collaborator.  His designs emphasize ergonomics, and this emphasis has led to a line of Spyderco blades that look unique, even within the context of Spyderco’s already out-there design language.  Schempp has designed:

  • The Equilibrium
  • The Navaja
  • The Persian and Persian 2
  • The Barong
  • The Khukri
  • The Balance
  • The Kris
  • The Tuff
  • The Bowie

The Rock is his only fixed blade collaboration with Spyderco, but it is clearly a Schempp design.  The Rock is based loosely on the kukri, a Nepalese blade carried by Gurkha, Nepalese soldiers with a reputation for fearlessness.  While Schempp has maintained the military kukri’s aggressive cutting performance, he has modified it to function better in utilitarian, rather than combative, roles.

The Rock is a hard-use outdoor knife.  Macro-scale camping tasks like batoning are its calling, and as such I think its most direct competitors are other hard-use, bigger camp knives, in particular the Cold Steel SRK, the Ka-Bar Becker BK9, and a newcomer, the Schrade SCHF38.

Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling fixed blade knives currently for sale on Amazon:

1) Mossy Oak
2) Ka-Bar USMC
3) Cold Steel Survivalist
5) Camp Lore PR-4
4) Cold Steel San Mai SRK

An avant-garde emphasis on ergos

Schempp is an ergonomics-oriented designer.  Whereas as I generally prefer a “task-neutral” approach to handle design – clean lines, gentle curves – Schempp isn’t afraid to get a little more aggressive.  The Rock’s handle only lets you hold it comfortably in certain grips, but in each of those grips it is very comfortable.  There is even a forward finger choil, a somewhat rare feature on a knife this large.  The FRN scales add dimensionality, giving a sensation of a full, secure grip.  On paper, and while simply holding the knife, there’s little to complain about here.

I do wish that there was less shock transferred to the hand during chopping tasks.  This is always a compromise: you’re never going to be completely comfortable doing hard cutting like this, but other knives manage the impact better.  I think the issue is the FRN: it looks good, is durable and gives you a good grip, but over time I found that my hands hurt with use sooner than they did with other blades.

The SRK has a simpler handle shape, which I like.  It does lack the forward choil, though.  The big advantage it has over the Rock for me is that the Kraton handles are a little rubbery.  They absorb more shock during big chops. 

The BK9 has FRN scales just like the Rock.  Becker-designed knives are known for their excellent ergos, and that’s certainly the case with the BK9.  It makes the Rock seem a little overdesigned (a problem I have with a lot of Schempp designs).  The SCHF38 is about on par with the Rock.  It’s the least-interesting ergonomically of the group, but for some people that may be an advantage.

Medium-sized Rock chops big

There are a large number of companies that make kukris faithful to the original design.  The Rock uses the kukri as an inspiration, not a blueprint.  The severe inward curve has been mostly straightened out, leaving just enough of a cant to give the Rock a negative blade angle. 

Ka-Bar BK9
Ka-Bar BK9

The blade isn’t on a level with your hand at the center of the knife, and because of this the Rock swings and cuts very aggressively.  Chopping and bush-clearing are the Rock’s specialty.  The recurved blade meets material so viciously, taking big chunks out of wood and downing swatches of underbrush at a swing. 

It’s rare for the blade to outshine the ergos on a Schempp design, but that is exactly what is happening with the Rock.  The handle is good, but the blade, in its limited field of application, is on another level.

It’s not unusual for a chopper to be less versatile than a camp knife, but I found the Rock’s exotic blade shape a pain to work with in other tasks.  Food prep is out of the question.  Making a featherstick or whittling is not going to end well.  Usually, I find that I’m able to use choppers with more traditional blade shapes for these other tasks, but I had real trouble with the very specialized, kukri-esque Rock.

The blade shapes on the Cold Steel SRK, Ka-Bar BK9, and Schrade SCHF38 are all very traditional, and very similar.  The BK9, with its 9” blade, is still better with the details than the Rock (which has a 6.75” blade), although it is bested by the SCHF38 and SRK, which are 5.75” and 6” long respectively.  In fairness to the Rock, only the BK9 chops as well, and it’s almost 3” bigger.  The pseudo-kukri shape is great for getting big-blade aggression into what is basically a medium-sized blade.

The Rock is made from VG-10 steel.  I like VG-10 for an outdoor blade.  It was originally designed for use in horticulture, and I think you can see that in its superior rust resistance.  I’ve left VG-10 knives out in the rain overnight, and found them the next day without a spot of rust on them.  VG-10 does tend to get stained easily, though, but on a rugged knife like the Rock a little temporary discoloration shouldn’t bother you.  On a folding knife, VG-10’s biggest problem – it loses a razor edge quickly – is noticeable.  But on a hard-use chopper, you care less about fine edge.  The Rock is for splitting wood, not hairs.  It isn’t a problem.

The competition falls short of the Rock in steel.  The SRK has VG-1, a close relative of VG-10, but slightly worse in just about every  category except toughness – and VG-10, at least with the heat treat Spyderco uses, is plenty tough.  The BK9 and SCHF38 both use coated 1095, a carbon steel that is functional but outdated.  I don’t know why any knives for camping are made with non-stainless steel.  1095 is rust prone.  Both Ka-Bar and Schrade coat their blades to help with the rust problem, but I like the look of a satin finish, as on the Rock, much better.

Vg-10 takes care of itself

Cold Steel SRK
Cold Steel SRK

Recurves are a Faustian bargain.  You get increased cutting performance, sure, but you sacrifice “sharpenability.”  Depending on what knife sharpening equipment you have, you may find the Rock too onerous to sharpen.  Recurves are a bear to work with on any system that isn’t freehand, and even then you need to be mindful and watch that you’re following the edge.  They have their fans, but I find them to be more of a problem than a boon.

Sharpening aside, the VG-10 steel and FRN handle material will hold up well for years.  I also appreciate that the Rock comes with sheath made from Kydex.  It may not be the most attractive material in the world, but it sure is durable, requiring none of the attention or babying that leather does.

The SRK’s VG-1 is pretty easy to maintain, and it gets extra points for not having a recurve.  The coating that Cold Steel uses is terrible, flaking off almost immediately, but that doesn’t bother me.  I’ve already mentioned my issues with the rust-prone nature of 1095, so the BK9 and SCHF38, coating or no, are going to need more attention than the Rock.  But I would rather have to oil my blade than sharpen a recurve, so they still come out ahead.

The Rock is a very good, but very limited knife

The Rock is an interesting knife, but thankfully it isn’t more interesting than it is useful.  It can chop with the best of them, often outperforming blades that are quite a bit bigger.  It has a very comfortable, if strange-looking handle, and a proven steel, heat treated to perfection.

But in focusing so much on the chopping performance, I think that the Rock loses general utility.  The other knives I’ve compared it to in this review can chop well, and also do other camp tasks nicely.  The question is, do you like the Rock’s design so much that you’re willing to forgo some utility?  For me, the answer is no; I’d take any of the other blades in this review over the Rock, if I could just have one. But the Rock’s design and performance, while limited, are appropriately solid.  If it appeals to you, try it out.  Competition aside, it’s a good knife.

  • Rating: 3/5 stars

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