EDC Recommendations 2014: $100 and Under
Tony Sculimbrene 09.21.14
At this point in our gear recommendations series, we are entering the price points where you can get real, great gear. I feel much more confident about my opinions now that I have finally reviewed each of the major company’s standard bearer blades, quite a few of which are in this price range.
Knife: Spyderco Dragonfly II in ZDP-189 (pictured above)
Light: L3 Illumination L10C
Normally, I’d try to spend about the same amount on both tools, but the reality is that in this case the L10C is just so good that it outperforms all of the $50 lights out there. A few bucks more and the L10C runs into some real competition (the Peak Eiger, the Quantum D2), but at under $50, it’s still the king. It’s that darn good.
The Dragonfly II in ZDP-189 is such an amazing blade for a whole host of reasons, and when the pennies saved on the light, you can spend them on the uber-awesome blade steel. Its size is perfect, the weight is great, and more important than just about anything else, it provides amazing cutting ability and control. Despite its tiny size, you can get a full four finger grip, and the half-and-half finger choil makes both the superior grip and control possible.
There are roughly two dozen knives in the Kershaw line up that fit this price point. Many of them are brand new, and I haven’t had a chance to handle them yet. The Camber looks good, being a flipper version of the Blur. The Nura, with its bearing pivot, looks great, but it’s not quite out yet. The G10 Cryo is the knife we all wanted the original Cryo to be. That said, I like the Kershaw Skyline the best of the Kershaw knives in this price range.
Spyderco’s value line of folders aren’t all that good, and the Byrd line is pretty junky. The core models in the Spyderco line, the Dragonfly, the Delica, and the Endura, can be had in this price range if you want VG-10, which you shouldn’t. It can get sharp and is practically waterproof, but it doesn’t hold an edge at all.
Benchmade doesn’t offer a true Benchmade in this price, but a few of their HK knives look good. The Mini Pika has 9Cr13MoV, a small step up in steel from the many of the HK knives, and it runs a very affordable $30 or so. The P30 Assist and the Scorch also have good stats, but run 8Cr13MoV and all are more expensive than the Mini Pika. It’s surprising to see the prices on many of the HK knives as Benchmade could be using this line to bring out high value designs, but they aren’t. $100 knives with 8Cr13MoV isn’t enticing. If they focused on value (like in the Mini Pika) and good designs (like the out of production Aphid), the HK line could easily crush the awful stuff found in the Byrd line up, all of which should be avoided.
CRKT’s Swindle and their Eros SS are both excellent knives.
Add in the Ripple and you have a trio of awesome, bearing assisted flippers for under $50. The steel is a weak link and a source of savings, but the Eros SS runs the very respectable AUS-8. Any of these knives would look great, and all of them perform very well. All but the Ripple are heavy for their size.
The rest of the standard bearer knives (the CRKT M16, the Cold Steel Voyager, the Kershaw Leek) all have flaws that make me hesitant to recommend them, though they are all very good. The M16Z, the EDC targeted version of CRKT’s standard bearer, is a very good in the pocket and when opening, but the lock for the lock design is supremely annoying, requiring you to do some extra finger yoga to disengage the lock. The Voyager is ultratough, but it’s not great in the pocket or the hand. The odd position of finger choils and flat spots makes the blade feel like it is a mile away, even on the smallest version of the Voyager. The Leek is quite good, thin, fast, and beautiful, but a paper thin tip makes me worry about the knife all of the time. The Random Task, the original Speedsafe knife, would be a huge improvement in terms of tip strength, but alas, it’s out of production. There is a reverse tanto Leek, but it is a limited run and not currently available.
In this price range, the Leatherman Skeletool CX is an outstanding buy. Its minimal tool complement is often bemoaned by the multitool cognescenti, but all of the tools are good and some are great. The knife in particular is the best on any multitool. Also, unlike a lot of multitools, this knife doesn’t feel like a brick on your hip, tipping the scales at a dainty (for pliers-based multitools) 4.9 ounces. The fact that it runs a good steel (154CM) is also a plus.
On the light front there is a lot of competition out there, but none as good a value as the L10C. The Eagletac D series lights, available in a twisty and clicky in both 1xAA and 1xCR123a formats, are excellent. Eagletac has long done a great job at getting good tints in its lights, and the D series are among the most pocketable in their line up. The ultimately lose out to the Hi CRI emitter in the L10C, but the Eagletac lights are still good.
The Baton series from oLight offer cutting edge lumens counts, a side switch, and a magnetic tailcap, but the lack of a Hi CRI tint and the terrible pocket clip design keep it behind the L10C. The Baton comes in both the 1xAA and 1xCR123a format.
The Thrunite T10 comes in three variants: aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium. All are excellent lights. The tints are good, the lumens counts are decent (though not as good as the Baton series of lights), and the clips are outstanding. In the end, they have a few fit and finish tweaks that put them ahead of the L10C in terms of build quality, but none are so far ahead as to make the price difference between it and the L10C.