Having done this for a while now, like three or four months, I have decided to distill some of what I have learned into a series of commentaries on recommended gear. The idea is taken from the "Recommended Systems" archives from one of my favorite A/V sites, Audioholics. Here is their system recommendations page. One of the most frequently asked questions on all gear forums is usually some formulation of the following: I am in the market for X; I have Y to spend, what should I get?
With that basic premise as my guide I plan on looking at gear in a bunch of price ranges. I am not, however, going to give recommendations for an entire EDC set up. I thought about it, but then I realized I couldn't do it. First, beyond a few essentials, which I will get to in a moment, what people carry everyday is highly task specific, so detailing an entire set up, purely in theory, is not terribly useful. Second, I don't know enough about bags, handguns, watches or writing instruments to provide useful guidance regarding these items.
For me, the core of my set up are two things: a tool and a flashlight. This is what, in my mind, sets apart EDC stuff from merely things you have in your pocket. People that carry a pocket knife and a flashlight very rarely do so inadvertently, whereas a pen or wallet can sneak into just about any pair of pants. So what I intend to do is go through various price ranges and name what I think are the best values for a flashlight and a tool in that price range. Here are the price ranges:
$25 and under
The rules I am going to use are pretty straightforward. First, I am only going to look at NEW stuff. The price and availability of used stuff fluctuates too much to allow for useful recommendations. Second, I am going to assume a balance between the tool and the light in terms of price and priority. For example, no Sebenza/Nanostream pairings. I do this because: 1) I think both are equally important; and 2) I think that if you are bothering to read this blog you probably care about the quality of your gear so it seems unlikely that you'd be interested in a nice knife but crappy light, or vice versa. Third, the price ranges are guides, but I will accept a variance of 5-7% in terms of price given that prices on the web can fluctuate. Finally, I am only going to look at things that a readily available. I am not, for instance, going to examine or consider full custom, "one of" knives or flashlights (like this glittering gem from PhotonFanatic). The reason I am putting this limitation on the analysis is because, again, the recommendations are only useful to the extent that you can do something with them, and if I recommend something that you can't get...well...what's the point?
Additionally, when I am considering the gear, I am going to look at it from a general utility perspective. So while I really, really like the ZT350, I am probably not going to recommend it because it is designed for a specific application and that application makes it less than ideal (read: too heavy) for general use.
I am not going to consider the reputation of the maker unless it bears on value or availability. For example, I am disturbed by the allegations against Mick Strider, but it would not dissuade me from buying his stuff. The issues with Rob Cheetham and Lummi, on the other hand, impact availability and thus, I will consider those. Benchmade's business practices and Mag Light's uber aggressive litigation are issues for some, but not enough to prevent me from looking at what they have to offer. These things don't impact their product's performance.
Why "tool" instead of "knife"? Well, honestly a lot of the time it will be a knife. Most of the time you are going to use the tool as a knife and there are very few times in which a multitool will have a better blade than a knife. There are a few times when I can see carrying a multitool over a knife--doing a home improvement project for example--but most of the time when you carry a tool it will be used as a knife about 80-90% of the time. Not all the time though, which is why I am looking at tools not just knives.
Finally a word about value. My gear reviews do not consider value. They consider strictly performance. I did this because value is even MORE subject than performance. Most people agree that the Sebenza is a great performing knife, but at $330 for the smallest base model, I am not sure how many people think of it as a good value. There is something to say about the very peak of performance. For some, that peak performance is the only thing they will buy and so the Sebenza, which offers that performance, is a good value. If you are looking for X and only X, then whatever has that attribute, regardless of cost is a good value for you because that is the only criteria that counts. Value, in other words, is just too subjective for me to discuss at length when reviewing a product's performance.
In this series though I am going to actually make recommendations, not just say how good or bad something is. There are things that I would recommend that did not get great review scores, like the Leafstorm. It is a quirky, unique knife and I think it works very well and I have a sense that it will be one of those "chase" knives once it goes out of production. So I would recommend it, despite its drawbacks. It has a good deal of value, even at the price (compare it to other Ti framelocks with S30V blade steel, its about half the price....).
So what is value? For me, value is performance compared to price. The more performance for the dollar, the better. So that is the criteria I will use for the commentaries.
First up, the dauntingly difficult $25 and under price range.