EDC Recommendations 2014: $250 and Under
Tony Sculimbrene 09.23.14
With a $125 a piece to spend on a knife and a light, you can do quite well. Benchmades are now readily available. High quality flashlights abound. Even the most ardent gear geek can be satisfied for a lifetime with a pair that comes in at $250. This particular light/knife pair of recommendations has been unchanged since I originally wrote up recommendations three years ago. This is about a close to a set of classics as you can find, though this year I was tempted sorely to go in a different direction. Utility won out and the pair remains unchanged:
Knife: Spyderco Caly 3 in ZDP-189 (pictured above)
Light: HDS Clicky
The Caly 3 is one of the most refined designs in the Spyderco lineup, with a wonderful feel in the hand and an amazing blade steel. It does nothing poorly and stacks up well to knives twice its price. While researching my Sebenza, this was the knife I had coming in second, over a Strider PT and a William Henry E6, knives at least twice the Caly 3’s price. The carbon fiber handle is just too nice.
The HDS Clicky is also a great light with periodic emitter upgrades to keep it competitive. The body is positively ancient in the world of lights, but it’s a classic example of “if it ain’t broke, don’tf fix it.” Good luck getting one, they are hard to come by. Also note that while it can tailstand, you might have to purge the tailcap of air every once in a while. It’s a weird quirk on an otherwise amazing light.
The knife that almost booted the Caly 3 out its place was the Northwoods Knives Indian River Jack.
If you have even a passing craving for a traditional knife, swap out the Caly 3 for the IRJ. Both are extraordinary values, but in many ways the Indian River Jack is a more pleasurable user experience. The knife itself paces the Caly 3’s slicing abilities, an insane feat given the Caly 3’s profile. The CPM154 blade is so expertly ground and finely finished that you can peel off foodstuffs of paper thinness. This thing can cut pepperoni so thin it’s translucent.
But there is more to the knife than the great blade. Its handle looks incredible, capped on both ends by double bolsters. I opted for the cheapest model, the smooth bone handle, and I have not had a single regret. The creamy color positively glows. This is a truly beautiful object as well as a handy tool.
Finally there is the leather pouch–an excellent carry method and something that sets this knife even further apart from the competition. The case blows CRK’s slipcase out of the water and distributes the size and weight of the knife perfectly in your pocket. The only things that swayed me back to the Caly 3 were the lock and the one handed opening method, both things that make a knife just that much easier to use. That said, with a bit of patience and knife sense (to borrow Derrick Bohn’s, the knife’s designer and producer, favorite phrase), the IRJ is every bit the blade that the Caly 3 is, with a much more traditional, people-friendly appearance.
At this price range, you can finally get into a real Benchmade and the experience is worth the money. Benchmade’s fit and finish is truly superior to other knives on the market at the same price. That, coupled with quite a few solid designs, makes me always tempted by their offerings. Here two knives really stand out: the Mini Griptillian and the Mini Barrage.
The Mini Grip is significantly less than the $125 limit, but even with the additional dough, only a few knives are better. The Caly 3’s superior steel and smooth refinements make it a better choice, but the Mini Grip is damn good in its own right. Skip the thumb stud and opt for the 555hg, which has a thumb hole instead. The Mini Barrage is similarly good and is probably at the top of the price range. I actually really like the special edition that runs M390, but that is well outside the price range here. The Emissary is a decent knife, though I found it ugly.
At $125, we have left the land of Kershaws except for a few special editions. There is a carbon fiber/S30V version of the Skyline, but I actually like the 14C28N steel better than S30V (almost all of the edge retention with greater ease of sharpening). There are a few high end steel Blurs out there, but I think they may exceed the price point, especially if you have to secure them on the secondary market.
You can get just about any Spyderco out there, and lots and lots of people like the Sage 1, which can be had for around $100. I prefer the ZDP-189 steel of the Caly 3. This is the same reason I like the Caly 3 better than the stock Paramilitary 2, which is sold for under $125, but rarely in stock. You can also score a Native, which is an excellent knife, but I like the ergos on the Caly 3 better. The only Spyderco in this price range that offers real competition to the Caly 3 is the smaller and incredible Chaparral in carbon fiber.
It originally ran S30V, but that was swapped out for CTS-XHP a while ago. Honestly, the difference between these two knives is very slight. XHP is a great steel in the running with ZDP-189 for my favorite steel on an EDC knife. I like the size on the Chaparral a little better, but I like the shape on the Caly 3 more. In the end, both are great choices, but I am more comfortable with my judgment that the Caly 3 is a great knife than I am with the same judgment about the Chaparral.
Flashlights are much more difficult to recommend at this price point. You have a lot of good EDC flashlights from a lower price point that are all Ti-ed up (the S10, the RRT-01, the Sunwayman M11R…), but these are all really just cosmetic upgrades. I’d probably not pay more for these lights than I would for their cheaper brethren, and I certainly wouldn’t take them over, say, the HDS Clicky, which is a truly superior build. If I were pushed, I’d probably opt for one of the two small 18650 lights, the Eagletac TX25C2 or the Zebralight SC600 Mk.II. Both are very small (though portly for EDC), but they offer true performance upgrades over the gilded lily lights that dominate this price range.
The only real competition the HDS Clicky has is from a light that is not currently available (or whose availability is so limited I can’t, in good conscious, include it)–the MBI HF-R Ti.
This is a super light, and it’s the size of a AA battery with an output of 600 lumens. You’d be hard pressed to find it, but you’d be even harder pressed to find better, regardless of price (this little jewel clocks in at $128). This is an awesome, next-gen light. I decided to add this to the write up not to taunt you with promises of what is unavailable, but to provide you with a reminder: check every once in a while, and if you can score one, the MBI HF-R Ti is just amazing. It’s better than the HDC Clicky in every regard except one: “purchaseability.”