2015 Recommendation Series Under $600
Tony Sculimbrene 12.01.15
Once we start shopping for gear at the $600 level, it’s is all elite. No reason to mess around with half baked stuff. You will find some of the best and most sought after stuff at this level, and the reason for the jump from $200 to $600 is clear: the Chris Reeve Sebenza.
There is no way around it, the Sebenza drives the market. It drives the price of knives that are both cheaper and more expensive. And the Sebenza Problem confronts every knife buyer, especially when the knife they are buying is within a $100 of Chris Reeve’s hallmark knife–why shouldn’t I just buy a Sebenza? Very often, there isn’t a reason to buy another knife other than the Sebenza. But over time, I have come to see that the Sebenza is great and so are some other knives in this price range.
There is a similar phenomenon in lights. Though not as universally known, the HDS Rotary is every bit as good in the flashlight world as the Sebenza is in the knife world. It’s a very, very solid design, especially now that there is an excellent pocket clip available.
Honestly, you aren’t going to get a huge jump in performance from the $200 price bracket. The arrival of Kizer and Reate, two premium Chinese knife companies, has driven down the price of high end production cutlery. You can now find amazing knives, with very good steel (S35VN, the preferred steel of CRK) for around $170. The Kizer Gemini, for example, is quite good. Similarly, the S1 Baton is a good light.
There are a ton of knives here, but let’s cut through the competition for the Sebenza–the Bradley Alias is not a true competitor. The materials are similar, but the design and the fit and finish is not in the same league. The Acies from AG Russell has better steel (ZDP-189), but worse everything else.
The ergos are dreadful, especially the thumb stud and the lockbar. The Spyderco Sage is a bit cheaper but probably better than either of those knives. The Benchmade 761 has been excoriated in reviews and forums as it is a classic example of the “bad Benchmade”–boring design, me too features, and a surprising ignorance of the market (are you really buying this over something like the large Sebenza?).
There are a bunch of CRK knives that I don’t find all that competitive with the Sebenza (even Reeve himself is stumped by the Sebenza Problem). The Inoksi, a smaller version of the Sebenza 25, is a knife made on Groundhog Day. The Sebenza 25 is not something I prefer over the original. The Umnumzaan is too big for me, but quite good if I were, say, 8 inches taller (6’6″).
Lionsteel/DPx make a few knives here, the TiSpine, the SR series, and the TRE, but none would be my first choice. Spyderco likewise makes a few higher priced knives, and of those I like the Tencho a lot. The Rassenti collab looks very good too, but it’s not out yet. I haven’t found a Strider or an Emerson that has truly transfixed me. I like the Kizer Gemini a lot, but I am not sure it would be my #1 choice. None of the high end ZT have struck my fancy except for the ZT0454, but it is WAY out of the price range.
This leaves the Sebenza and the true top shelf stuff at around or over $300. First, the Sebenza–if I were getting a new Sebenza it would be the Knife Art CF version of the Small 21 with the Insingo blade shape. That, it seems to me, is the perfect Sebenza. That said, I actually like the Mnandi better.
It’s a more refined design and with the original nail knick, which is out of production, it would be my #1 choice. But alas, it’s not available anymore. I would place the Benchmade 940-1 at the top of the heap, but I and a few others have had some pretty significant fit and finish issues with a knife this expensive. My number one choice here would be a Triple Aught Design Dauntless.
I have handled a few, and all were truly superb blades. The design is great, the steel is good, and there are ton of options. I’d love a smaller version with a 3 inch blade, but I don’t think that is coming.
There are ton of midtechs that are just out of the $300 price limit, and I have handled a lot of them. I really like the GMT Stubby Razel. The Tom Krein Shard also looks good. There are a handful of knives that might be midtechs coming from Russia. I am not sure they are in this price range, and if they are not, I am not sure they are better than the Kizer/Reate tier of knives.
I’d love to recommend a production multitool, but I can’t. Beyond the Charge TTi, there is not much and you could have that at the previous price point. But there is something to the idea of a heavy mod Swiss Army Knife. I got a SAKModder (aka Robert Lessard) modded Pioneer, complete with re-anondizing, new backsprings, and added in scissors, and I have been incredibly happy.
If you just can’t bear not having a screwdriver on you, Lessard’s mods are the very best in the business.
Other than some weird titaniumed versions of cheaper production lights, there is not a lot new here. The Surefire Titan Plus is a good light as it is not just a gilded version of the regular Titan. Surefire makes other good lights, but they are all too big for EDC purposes. There are some semi-customs that are worth mentioning. I like the MBI HF-R.
It’s tiny and amazingly bright, though it won’t last forever. I also like the Sinner Tri-EDC.
It is a true flamethrower, hitting something like 1,000 lumens on an 18350. The clip is terrible, but the light itself is amazing. The Malkoff MDC line of lights is very good too, but if the Tri-EDC clip is bad, the MDC’s clip is an abomination. OKLuma is making some good lights, but they are hard to find. Finally, if you really want a hotrod that belches photons, you have to look at Oveready. They make a few lights of their own, including the Moddoolar, which is among the cream of the crop even a few years later.
The problem with all of this is the flashlight equivalent of the Sebenza Problem–the HDS Rotary is a phenomenal light. It’s brick solid, amazingly easy to use, and now has a great clip. You’d be very hard to find something better that lasts longer. Henry regularly updates his emitters, but he is clearly not in the lumens arms race camp.
What Changed from Last Year? The knife world is going crazy and the number of entries at this price level are probably three or four times greater than last year. The main difference is the emergence of the high Chinese knives. There are a few new start ups in the custom world that offer a bunch of unique items, all of which seem good. The Sinner Tri-EDC is a good buy at $129. The Moddoolar is amazing, but I am not sure if it is exactly the best EDC light because of the unusual battery and the fat profile in the pocket.
Knife: SAK Modder Pioneer or Triple Aught Design Dauntless
Light: HDS Rotary