It may have started with butterfly knives, but Benchmade has grown into one of the biggest and broadest cutlery brands in the world. From hiking and hunting fixed blades, to locking and slipjoint pocket knives, Benchmade still manufactures everything they make in their Oregon, USA facility. Let’s take a look at the best of what the brand has to offer in 2019.
- Griptilian Series
- 535 Bugout
- 940 & 943 Osborne
- Crooked River
- Adamas Auto
- Benchmade 87 Balisong
- Benchmade 51 Morpho Balisong
- Proper Slipjoint
It’s safe to say that the Benchmade Griptilian is one of the most popular folding knives of all time. This unassuming little knife is comfortable, capable, and surprisingly fun to use. The key to its longtime popularity, in my opinion, is its simplicity: the handle is shaped to suit just about any hand, and it comes in both small and large sizes to suit just about any preference.
The Griptilian utilizes Benchmade’s innovative AXIS Lock, an ambidextrous and strong system that provides a kinetic deployment experience. Lockup is provided by a round bar, which pins the blade against the liners to hold it open. Closing it is as simple as pulling back on the round bar to let the blade swing back into the handle. Because your fingers never pass through the path of the closing blade, it’s a very safe system. It’s very strong, too – even after all these years, it’s still one of the strongest on the market. It helps to make the Griptilian useful for more than just occasionally opening a box: light enough to pack, yet strong enough to rely on, the security of the AXIS Lock and the comfortable handle ergonomics make this a great folding outdoors knife.
The line has expanded over the years – today, you can get a Griptilian in your choice of three blade shapes (drop point, sheepsfoot, and tanto) and in either a standard or upgraded variant. Standard Griptilians have Noryl GTX handles and S30V steel, and the upgraded line comes with grey milled G10 handles with blue liners and top-shelf 20CV steel. There’s no shortage of colors and flavors to choose from to find the perfect Griptilian for you.
If the Griptilian is the stalwart of the Benchmade catalog, the Bugout is the upstart. This ultra-light little knife is relatively new to the market and is already a huge hit with users who want a full-sized tool that’s still easy to carry.
And boy, does the Bugout deliver. It’s not just easy to carry – it’s hard to remember you even have it on you! This knife packs 3.25 inches of blade into less than two ounces – for comparison, that’s less than the weight of a typical pair of boot laces.
Weight savings are courtesy of the exceptionally thin parts used to assemble the Bugout – thin fiber-reinforced polymer handle scales (Grivory) and a thin, flat ground S30V blade. Incidentally, that thin blade stock helps make the Bugout quite a capable little cutter. With its classic utilitarian drop point shape, it would feel at home alongside a high-end paring knife.
There are several variants of the Bugout on the market already, but the best is undoubtedly the KnifeCenter Exclusive with Battlewash handles. It’s a great looking finish – a little like the “battle-damaged” action figures that were popular when I was a kid – and it also helps the ergonomics. Since the finish is achieved via a tumbling process, the edges and corners are ever-so-softly rounded for a seamless, comfortable feel.
David thinks the Griptilian is Benchmade’s flagship model (see his rundown of the best Benchmade knives on our YouTube channel), but if you ask me, it’s the 940 Osborne. This knife is an EDC icon. If you’re a “knife guy,” you need to try the Benchmade 940 – it’s just one of those designs that never gets old. The blade is long and strong enough to tackle everything from fire making to food prep, yet refined enough to feel at home in a suit pocket. Australian designer Warren Osborne imbued the 940 with an oddball personality all its own; from the unusual (yet totally practical) reverse-tanto blade shape to the eye-popping green and purple color scheme.
If the standard 940 is a little too wild for your taste, Benchmade also offers it in black G10 (940-2), black aluminum scales with a skinny drop point blade (943), or an upgraded version with stealthy carbon fiber handles (940-1) and an S90V steel blade.
The Benchmade Crooked River takes a more classical approach to knife design. Setting aside its modern construction, the Crooked River – with its stabilized wood scales and metal bolsters – is cut from the same cloth as iconic folding hunter designs from the past like the Buck 110. Also, like the Buck 110, the Crooked River is a surprisingly sizable knife. With four inches of blade, the full-size Crooked River is big; and at just under 3.5 inches the “mini” version is still well-sized.
The Crooked River is sold under Benchmade’s “HUNT” sub-brand, and I have no doubt that either size would make a supremely capable folding game knife. It’s also worth considering as an everyday carry – thanks to the pocket clip, S30V blade, and AXIS Lock, the Crooked River only looks like a blast from the past. If you want modern performance and a timeless look, the Crooked River is one of the best options out there.
The Benchmade Barrage – both mini- and full-sized versions – are the first assisted openers on this list. Benchmade has been making assisted knives for years, and they have it down. The Barrage works like any manual thumb stud knife, but with the spring-assisted confidence of an automatic. If reliable deployment is a priority for you, the Barrage is an excellent choice.
As with the Griptilian, Benchmade offers several different variations of the Barrage: you can get a 154CM blade with black synthetic handles; S30V steel with grey G10; or a decked-out version with M390 steel and G10 handles with aluminum bolsters. All models also feature a secondary safety, which can lock the knife both open and closed for an added layer of security.
If you want a burly knife that deploys in a flash, the Benchmade Adamas Auto is for you. It’s hard to describe in words just how beefy this folder is – don’t underestimate it until you’ve held one in your hands. The knife comes with a deep-carry clip, but Benchmade have graciously included a MOLLE-compatible sheath to spare your pockets the added bulk.
Even though the Adamas Auto looks like an ordinary AXIS Lock knife, a quick pull back on the AXIS bar automatically launches the blade open with a whip-like crack. Benchmade makes a manual-action Adamas too, should you prefer, but this automatic is easily my favorite. The thick saber-ground D2 blade is tough, and the overbuilt construction can handle more than a little rough work. Handles come in either black or desert tan G10. It’s hard to believe the beastly Adamas comes from the same company that makes the featherweight Bugout!
Sticking with the automatics brings us to the Benchmade Infidel. This famous out-the-front knife has a devoted following, particularly among Benchmade’s military customers. This is a thoroughbred tactical knife – a four-inch, double-edged, double-action automatic dagger isn’t the most utilitarian carry unless you pop balloons for a living. The Infidel has a different layout than most other OTFs on the market, with a side-mounted switch that allows the aluminum handle to keep a perfectly symmetrical profile that evokes classic fixed-blade daggers. The action is lightning-fast and satisfying, and the lockup is as sturdy as they come. A deep carry clip keeps the Infidel out of the way until needed.
No list of the best Benchmade knives would be complete without a balisong. As I mentioned at the top of this list, balisong knives – also called butterfly knives – were the first products Benchmade ever made (ever wonder why their logo is a butterfly?).
The Benchmade 87 is arguably their greatest bali yet. No expense was spared here – each handle is milled from a solid piece of titanium, and the cleaver-esque blade spins on thrust bearings for stable, frictionless operation. The latch that locks the handles together is actually magnetic. It’s tuned to hold itself out of the way, without dangling noisily as the handles move. The 87 just has a feel (and sound) like no other bali on the market.
The 87 may be the finest flipping Benchmade balisong, but if you want something made for more day-to-day utility the 51 Morpho is the answer. The Morpho is built more like a typical folding knife with skeletonized titanium liners and G10 scales. This decreases the weight (and price) significantly and makes the action of the Morpho fast and light on your hands.
Unlike the 87, the 51 also has a pocket clip. In addition to, well, clipping the knife to your pocket, the clip also allows you to tell – by feel alone – which of the handles is the “safe” handle and which is the “bite” handle. The blade also has a crowned spine, to make operating the knife more comfortable. These well-thought-out little details go a long way towards making the 51 Morpho balisong a worthy EDC option.
Finally, we come to the 318 and 319 Proper slipjoint. If anything shows off the breadth of Benchmade today, it’s these little slipjoint knives. These are truly “modern traditionals.” As much as I hate to use such an obvious oxymoron, it makes sense here: the Proper is traditional in spirit but modern in execution.
Built without a pocket clip, locking blade, or one-handed opening, the Proper is discreet and intentional in use; less fun to idly flick open and closed but absolutely rewarding in its own way. These little knives cut well, and with your choice of either S30V or S90V blade steel, they easily outperform the old-fashioned carbon or simple stainless steels found in typical traditional slipjoints.
What are your picks for best Benchmades of 2019?
Benchmade is a leading brand in the knife industry, and their design catalog is filled with gems. These were our top ten picks, but we’d like to know yours – what would you add to this list? What would you take away? And what do you hope to see from Benchmade next? Let us know in the comments below.