The Hinderer XM-18
Tony Sculimbrene 11.18.13
The Hinderer XM-18 is perhaps the most hyped knife on the planet right now. Even a smidgeon of the Hinderer magic is enough for a knife like the Kershaw Cryo to sell like hotcakes. The ZT0560 and ZT0561 are both awesome blades, which is a sign of just how great gear is right now, but the origin of their powerful design and sales mojo, the XM-18, is something else.
Part of the XM-18’s appeal is that it seems to be as overbuilt as humanly possible, though in the overbuilt aesthetic category, someone is always playing one-ups (the Direware for example). Its high desirability is also caused by the fact that, oddly enough, you can’t buy one. What? Wait a second….
That’s right, unless you are a LEO/Mil/EMS person, you can’t buy a Hinderer at retail. Sure, Hinderer has direct dealers, but only one that I know of sells them for retail. Everyone else marks them up. So the price for a readily available Hinderer XM-18 is far more than the $387 Hinderer charges for them. And the market has gotten wise to this. As production has increased, LEO/Mil/EMS folks can buy two XM-18s, sell one, pay for their keeper, and still make a profit.
I got my XM-18 from a firefighter. It was 3.5 inches, which I didn’t want, but I managed to trade that for a 3 inch. Both were slicer grinds, as opposed to the Hinderer trademark, the spanto. (He also offers a wharncliffe version). Both were also flippers. The 3.5 inch ran S35VN steel, while the 3 inch ran the rarer Latrobe Duratech 20CV. Finally, the 3.5 inch was a Gen 4 model while the 3 inch was a Gen 2 model with an aftermarket high polish convex cutting bevel. I paid $626 for my XM-18. This review is of the 3 inch model, absent specific notes referencing the 3.5 inch model.
The question isn’t whether this is a good knife. It is unquestionably a great knife. The bigger question is whether or not it is worth the price it commands on the secondary market.
The XM-18 3 inch slicer grind flipper is a mid sized titanium framelock knife. Here is the product page.
It is probably best categorized as a high end production knife, though an argument can be made that it is a midtech. This is more a disagreement about nomenclature than how the knife is produced. The knife has a pocket clip and thumb studs that also double as a blade stop. The non-locking side is thinner titanium with an overlay of wave-textured G10. Mine is very dark green or black.
There is a significant amount of jimping on the knife around the tail end of the handle and on the thumb ramp. There is also much milder jimping on the part of the lock bar used to disengage the lock. The flipper also has jimping on it. The blade and the titanium parts are nicely stonewashed.
There is a choil forward of the pivot allowing for multiple grips.
The knife is smaller than the Spyderco Delica when closed, as the blade is only marginally smaller than the handle. The handle itself has a distinctive negative angle curve, placing the end of the handle far below the spine of the blade. The Duratech 20CV is very chemically similar to M390 and took a beautiful polished edge. The lock bar is stopped by the trademark Hinderer lock bar stop. The knife is a pillar constructed knife with very substantial support pillars.
I tested the XM-18 3 inch doing many outdoor tasks, fall maintenance, and fire prep. I also used it in food prep, cutting fruits, meats, and vegetables. Finally, I carried the knife for about a month of EDC tasks.
In the outdoor tasks, it performed quite well. It cut cardboard consistently and easily. It also did well cutting rope and twine. In fire prep, the XM-18 made short work of some of the pine, oak, and poplar I had on hand to make kindling. The blade did sustain some marks, but they were hidden by the very nice stonewashing. I did not need to sharpen the knife during the testing period, but I did strop it regularly and it stropped well. Cutting fibrous food, such as meat, was easy. Acidic food did not leave stains nor did it patina the blade.
The overall look and feel of the XM-18 is one of being overbuilt. I am not such a huge fan of the look in general, but it really works on the Hinderer. In addition to being bulky, it also has a very technical look to it with lots of exposed screws and parts. For example, instead of leaving it alone, Hinderer made a small insert for the unused pocket clip inset (this is knife allows for both tip up and tip down, but right hand only carry) and then put two screws on it to hold it in place. All of pillars or standoffs have polished heads that provide a nice contrast to the stonewashed metal.
The choil is a bit small, but it is still functional.
Despite its overall appearance, the knife is actually quite svelte and compact. It gives you a sense of confidence while being pretty easy to carry at the same time. The 3.5 inch model is actually quite huge. It’s much, much larger in the pocket than you’d think. On paper, this is a stout knife, but not crazy bulky.
In terms of fit and finish, there was literally nothing for me to complain about on the 3.5 inch. It was flawless, but huge. On the 3 inch there were equally no flaws, but it did not function as well (see below for more). I thought that the overly large pocket clip would bang around, but it hasn’t been bad. I also thought that the internal stop pin (stopping the blade when closed) was weird, but it works.
The G10 texture is excellent, truly excellent. It is very, very grippy. It never slipped, not even when whittling or doing other high pressure tasks. On one occasion I was whittling with cold, wet hands, and it did fine. More impressive though is the fact that for all the texture, it doesn’t tear up your hands. Somehow Hinderer hit on that magic amount of texture: plenty but not too much. The stonewashing is also worthy of comment. This is a beautiful pattern, likely the result of a high polish that was then stonewashed.
It is among the most aggressive stonewashing I have seen and engulfs scratches rendering them invisible quickly.
In the pocket and in the hand, the XM-18 is quite nice. The jimping on the thumb ramp can cause wear on your index finger, but other than that, everything works well. The slicer grind itself was incredibly effective, really operating as a drop point blade in every way. It is a flat grind and a good one at that. I liked the grind on the cutting bevel on both the 3.5 inch I had and the 3 inch. The aftermarket convex grind the previous owner put on the blade was brutally effective and robust. If I could do it, I would put one on every knife I own. The Duratech was incredible, up there with the best steels on the market and taking a higher shine than ZDP-189 or M4.
There has been a long running problem with Hinderer’s flipping. Generally this is caused by a weak detent. The flipper on my 3.5 inch was flawless, however, tumbling with the ease of an Olympic gymnast. The flipper on my 3 inch was still capable of consistent flipping without wrist action, but it was not as easy or thoughtless as the 3.5 inch model.
So is the Hinderer worth the money? Yes. It is worth the money you’d pay from Hinderer directly. At $387 or so, this is an easy call. I’d probably pay $487 too. At $587, or roughly what I paid for it, the Hinderer is not worth it unless you really want an XM-18 and only an XM-18.
The ZT560 gives you a lot of what you get with the XM-18, though it is significantly larger than the 3 inch model. Additionally, there are no applications I can think of where the XM-18 will work and the ZT0560 won’t. Of course the 3 inch XM-18 makes a great EDC, but these knives are built for use and abuse. In that capacity, the ZT0560 will do everything you want the XM-18 to do.
There is one caveat to this, though: If you want a truly EDC sized XM-18, only a real one will do. The Cryo is not a competitor. It is a budget blade with Hinderer flavoring. The ZT0560 and 0561 are too big. The new ZT0566 has potential, but it is bigger than 3 inches and weighs almost 2 ounces more than the XM-18 3 inch (steel frame and liners account for most of the increased weight). If you want an EDC XM-18, you can’t beat the 3 inch model.
There is a ton of hype out there regarding this knife (and it is an excellent blade), but at $600 or more you can find a better way to spend your money.