Pocketknife Shootout

August 1, 2003
Filed under Camping Gear, Tools & Knives

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Small, strong and completely reliable — that sums up the Mini-Griptilian. This knife offers an excellent design and the patented AXIS-Lock system featured on many Benchmade (503/655-6004; benchmade.com) knives. The locking mechanism, an exclusive designed by renowned custom knifemakers Bill McHenry and Jason Williams, has no traditional “friction” parts so the action is extremely smooth.

The Mini-Griptilian may seem small with only a 2.9-inch blade, but it has a lot of big-knife features packed into its durable frame. The knife itself was designed by custom knife maker Mel Pardue and features a satin-finished 440C blade. The knife comes in a variety of colors to fit your personality including — black, yellow, blue, purple and green. Not only does the Mini-Griptilian come in a variety of colors, you can also get it with a plain edge or with Benchmade’s Combo-Edge (partial serrations).

Among its many other great features, the Mini-Griptilian is completely ambidextrous. The AXIS-Lock can be accessed from both sides, as well as the thumbstuds. To complement these features, Benchmade has also incorporated a reversible pocket clip. MSRP: $85.00.


For those of you who like serrations and plain edges, the Buck (800/326-2825; buckknives.com) Ecco 3.0 is perfect for you. Featuring two blades, the Ecco has a sleek, straight edge modified drop-point on one side and sheepsfoot serrated blade on the other. The blades are hollow-ground out of AUS 6 stainless steel and tempered to Rc 57/58. Both blades can be opened with thumbholes, and closed with a secure stainless steel liner lock. Besides having great blade geometry, the Ecco 3.0 has cutouts in the handle to access the thumbholes. This makes for a very slim profile without sacrificing size. The handles of the Ecco are constructed of glass-filled nylon and the whole knife weighs only 2.9 ounces. MSRP: $46.00.


Case (800/523-6350; wrcase.com) is well known for making knives that combine beauty and functionality — and the Amber Bone Hobo is no exception. The Hobo is a popular knife design that Case has carried for years, but now comes with the addition of the spoon. The Hobo is beautifully constructed, and has a perfect fit and finish — it is a great knife for those of you who don’t like taking a lot of silverware to the campsite with you. The knife comes with a clip blade that is tough enough to use on wood, or for cutting up a juicy piece of steak. It also has a fork and spoon. Opening the “blades” and sliding them apart can separate all three utensils.

To complement the beautiful mirror-polished steel, the Hobo’s handles are genuine bone with a warm amber glow. The knife is 4.125 inches closed and is the perfect companion to any backpacker or site-camper. MSRP: $97.99.


Coast Cutlery (800/426-5858; coastcutlery.com) has been around for more than 80 years, and offers just about every blade and style combination under the sun, but our favorites are in the company’s Grandpa Henry line of bone stag knives. Made using genuine bone stag handles, these knives have a wonderfully classic look and feel about them. The blades are manufactured from 440C stainless steel, and use steel bolsters, brass linings and rivets for durability and strength.

We have featured the Bone Stag Stockman (No. C833SB) from the Grandpa Henry collection (named after the founder of the company). This folding pocketknife offers a clip-point, sheepfoot and a spey blade. It measures 4 inches long when closed and weighs 3.5 ounces. MSRP is $39.95.


The unique elliptical blade makes the Trail Guide from Cold Steel (800/255-4716; coldsteel.com) a great cutting knife, and the tip is an excellent weight for heavy-duty work. The blade is constructed of Carbon V steel, known for taking extreme abuse. The company has made its name on this fantastic steel. The Carbon V takes more care than stainless steel blades, but you get an uncompromising blade that you could dig a hole to China with. The handle is constructed of a glass-impregnated nylon called Valox, and checkered for a firm non-slip grip. The knife makes a great camp tool, as it’s comfortable to use, and extremely sturdy. In addition, the knife has a full flat grind and a thumbhole for easy opening.

The Trail Guide comes in two sizes and two different blade designs. The one I tested had a 3.75-inch drop point blade, but you can also purchase the knife in a clip point in the larger size, or the smaller version with a 2.625-inch blade. To keep the knife secure, a custom-designed pocket clip is included. One of the best features of this knife is its price: MSRP is $39.99.


Columbia River (800/891-3100; crkt.com) is a fairly new company compared to some of the other knifemakers in this article — but that certainly doesn’t mean anything as far as quality goes. In fact, the M18 was designed by custom knifemaker Kit Carson. The M18 is a heavy-duty knife built to handle the toughest campsite chores. The M18 has a liner-lock to secure the blade, but also has the patented Lake and Walker Knife Safety (LAWKS) feature that allows you to lock the liner-lock into place in the open position.

This extra safety feature allows you to use the knife safely as a fixed blade. To assist in opening the knife, the M18 comes with a thumbstud on both sides of the blade and the special “Carson Flipper.” This is a knurled piece of the blade that sticks out the back of the knife in the closed position.

The hard-anodized aluminum handles with G10 inserts are comfortable to hold, and after a month of decent use (urban and outdoor), neither the handle, nor the razor-sharp blade looks any worse for the wear. The M18 come in two sizes, with blade lengths of 3.25 inches and 3.63 inches. Both sizes are available in three different colors in the handle inserts. You can choose from black, red, or blue. You can also buy plain edges, or with partial Triple-Point serrated cutting edges. MSRP: $99.99-$109.99.


The Gerber (800/950-6161: gerberblades.com) Urban Companion is a great pocketknife for everyday use. Don’t let the name fool you though; it’s not just a “city boy” knife. The Urban Companion is one of the smaller knives featured in this article with only a 2.6-inch blade, but it can still hold its own. It comes with two practical tools that are extremely useful — a sturdy blade and durable Fiskars scissors that tuck neatly into the handle.

The Urban Companion’s blade has a thumbstud for one-handed opening. The blade is made of high carbon stainless steel and is partially serrated. Both the knife blade and the scissors solidly lock into place with Gerber’s patented SAF.T.PLUS locking system. To unlock the blade, simply slide the thin release button back, and close. The release button is on both sides, so you can close the knife with either hand.

The ergonomic aluminum handles have 3M Gator TEX rubber inserts on each side that provide a “sticky” grip that keeps the knife from slipping from your hand. The cast aluminum portion of the handle is coated with Gerber’s E-coat, an attractive, durable surface finish that gives the knife a distinctive look. MSRP: $34.95


Following the trend of many of the production knifemakers of today, Kershaw (800/325-2891; kershawknives.com) has employed one of the best custom knifemakers to design some of its knives. Ken Onion knives are known for their beautiful, clean lines that assist in their functionality. The Whirlwind he designed is no exception. The knife comes with a satin-finished clip-point blade. It’s an “assisted opening” knife, as it just takes a small flick on the thumbstud to snap the knife open. The lightning-fast Whirlwind gets its speed by utilizing Kershaw’s patented SpeedSafe action, which is a safe and effective of way of getting the blade out quickly.

The Whirlwind has a swooping 3.75-inch drop-point blade with a nice belly for superior cutting ability. The 440A steel is extremely rugged and is attached firmly into the virtually indestructible polyamide handle. The knife is available with a partial serration, or a plain blade. Kershaw and Ken Onion did an excellent job putting the right amount of serration on the partially serrated version. The serrations are great for ripping through rope, but they left plenty of plain edge on the Whirlwind for regular slicing and cutting. The knife is great to handle and has a vast amount of cutting power — and it comes with a clip to secure it when not in use. MSRP: $79.95.


SOG (888/764-2378; sogknives.com) is well known for making military and combat knives, but I’ve found some of its knives to just be good outdoor knives. One example is the new Flash II pocketknife. The Flash II is another type of “assisted opening knife.” It can be opened very quickly, but it’s also a great sturdy knife that can handle the outdoors with ease.

The knife has SOG’s special SAT feature (SOG Assisted Technology) mechanism that helps propel the blade open once the operator has initiated the one-handed opening action. To close the knife, you simply pull back on the side button and use your index finger to close the knife. As an added precaution, the Flash II comes with a safety button to lock the blade closed. It’s fast as lightning, safe and has a strong blade lock.

The Flash II comes with a 3.5-inch piece of super-sharp AUS-8 steel that is available in a plain edge, or half-serrated. The blade is secured to Zytel handles with a sturdy pivot pin and includes a low-carry reversible bayonet pocket clip. MSRP: $59.95.


A favorite among policemen and firemen, Spyderco (800/525-7770; spyderco.com) has a vast line of pocketknives, and its designs and styles are always changing. The Pro-Grip has been in its line of knives a long time for a good reason — it’s a just a great knife. The FRN handle makes for a lightweight knife and the “sticky” Kraton insert keeps it secure in your hand while you’re shaving a fuzz-stick.

The Pro Grip is built with extremely tough AUS-8 steel. I didn’t know exactly how tough the steel was until I came home from work one day to find my significant other taking screws out of the bottom of our vacuum with the tip of the Pro-Grip — even though she had a screwdriver sitting right beside her. I winced and held my tongue until she was done, but to my surprise the tip wasn’t bent, scratched or even marred.

Spyderco’s trademark thumbhole helps open the blade easily, and the knife is held securely to your pocket or vest with an integrated clip. The handle also has a small patch of Kraton under the clip to keep it put. Whether it be fuzz-stick making or vacuum repair, you can’t go wrong with the Spyderco Pro-Grip. The knife blade is 2.6 inches and is available in new PlainEdge or a 50/50 combination of PlainEdge and serrated. MSRP: $68.95.


Victorinox (800/442-2706; victorinox.com) has created its first a one-hand opening knife. You still get the same great quality as with its traditional knives, but now you get a more ergonomic handle and the ability to open it up quickly. The Trailmaster knife comes with a large modified drop-point blade that is held in place with a left-hand liner-lock. The blade features a large thumbhole for easy access. It also comes with a saw, can-opener, wire-stripper, bottle-opener and various screwdriver options. The new handle shape makes it great to maneuver for whittlin’ on hotdog sticks and any other campsite tasks. MSRP: $37.00.

With the advent of multi-tools, many people forgot about the original multi-tool — the Swiss Champ. If TV’s MacGyver could defuse bombs with his, imagine what you could do with one. The 3.5-inch Swiss Champ comes with 33 features with endless uses. Each tool is made with Swiss precision and the two knives are razor sharp. If you need it, the Swiss Champ has it. Included are a large blade, small blade, corkscrew, can opener, cap lifter, screwdriver, wire stripper, reamer, punch, key ring, tweezers, toothpick, scissors, multi-purpose hook, wood saw, fishscaler, hook disgorger, ruler, nail file, metal file, nail cleaner, metal saw, fine screwdriver, chisel, pliers, wire cutters, Phillips screwdriver, magnifying glass, ballpoint pen, pin and a mini-screwdriver. The blades are razor sharp, and you won’t find the screwdriver’s tips twisting when you use them. It’s a toolbox packed into a pocket-sized knife. MSRP: $75.00.


The Survivor is named such because of its useful outdoor tools. The Wenger (800/267-3577; wengerna.com) Survivor comes with 14 tools, performing 17 functions. Included are such essentials as a clip-point pen blade, can opener, awl, corkscrew, toothpick and tweezers. Other features on the Survivor include a 100 percent serrated, locking large blade, which is a great safety feature for the knife, and allowed me to use it more aggressively without worry. Also included in the knife is a high-decibel signal whistle, which I found to be extremely annoying and piercing — great when the children won’t get out of their sleeping bags in the morning. Its patented locking screwdrivers stay secure when in use. To close them, you simply pull out on the screwdriver you’re using.

My favorite design element of the Survivor is the scissors. Remember the old scissors with the springs that broke about the second camping trip? Wenger fixed that problem with spring-less scissors with a serrated, self-sharpening design. MSRP: $75.00.

The right knife will bring greater convenience and utility to camp duties ranging from preparing kindling and shavings for a fire to slicing through tangled fishing line to cutting up an apple for a trail snack. We’ve surveyed just a dozen or so, all of them attractively priced high-quality tools of the trade. Any one of these examples of cutting-edge cutlery could be your perfect pocketknife.

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