Friday, June 14, 2013

Zero Tolerance ZT560 Review

The bleeding edge for gear is getting awfully crowded.  Super steels seems to drop out of foundries like leaves from a tree in October.  Innovative locks and deployment methods abound.  Designs and features that were cutting edge even two years ago are now common place even on the most inexpensive piece of gear.  In short, we are living in a golden age and few knives typify that golden age better than the Zero Tolerance ZT560.

The ZT560 is part of the Hinderer wave of designs that joined the Onion/Strider collabs as part of the Zero Tolerance line.  These Hinderer designs were all references or homages to Hinderer's own line of custom or mid tech knives, the XM series.  Known for their interesting blade shapes and ultra robust designs, the XM series was translated into a number of different KAI USA products, but none were as high end as the ZT560.  Rumor has it that Hinderer himself was spotted with a ZT 560 on his hip at the 2012 Blade Show.  It could have been a great bit of product placement for gear geeks or it could simply be that this is, like his own knives, one hell of a blade.

Here is the product page for the ZT560.  The tan G10 version is called the ZT561.  Both versions come in around $260.  Here is a guest review from my site that was submitted as part of the McGizmo giveaway.  Tom gave the knife an 18/20.  Here is another written review from Andrew at the Edge Observer (technically of the ZT561).  Here is a video review from Nutnfancy.  This review sample was sent to me by one of the site's two sponsors, E2 Field Gear.  You can purchase the ZT560 from E2 Field Gear and get a discount of 8% using the coupon code "Commentary" and the sales benefit the site and its giveaways.  Finally, here is the review sample:


Twitter Review Summary: Badass Behemoth: Big in the Pocket, Lock Problem Solved.

Design: 2

Even if you have carried big knives before, trust me when I tell you that you have not carried a knife like this.  The large size, generous flipper, and ultra smooth KVT bearing-based pivot makes this knife feel incredible in the hand.  Even slow and lazy flips drop the blade out with silken grace.  Once the lock kicks in you get a sense that you are holding something massive.  It feels more like a sword than a pocket knife because this is one HUMONGOUS knife.  It is big.  It is big even for a knife with a 3.75 inch blade.  And with the flipper all of that size and mass flies out of the handle with incredible speed and authority.

On paper this knife has a dream list of features: bearing pivot, titanium frame lock, flipper, high end steel, over the top, deep carry pocket clip, four way positionable clip, great blade shape, and 3D convex handle scales.  This is truly a blank check blade design.  The designer basically got to use the best of everything.  And unlike in other designs, all of these features play incredibly well together.  If you want an uber premium production blade and want to be big enough to behead a buffalo (or thereabouts), this is it.

The ratios are decent.  The blade:handle is .75 (3.75/5).  The blade:weight is .65 (3.75/5.8).  Both are well short of the record holder, the Al Mar Ultralight, but given the overall size and purpose of this blade as a pinnacle production hard use folder you knew there would be some trade offs.  Here is a shot of the knife in hand:


Here is the knife minus my hairy arms:


Fit and Finish: 2

The fit and finish on my review sample was flawless.  Nothing was poorly done.  The blade was perfectly centered.  The handles were meticulously finished.  The jimping was perfectly cut.  This is the apotheosis of American manufacturing skill, bringing together cutting edge technology, a relentless attention to detail, and a sterling design.  I have not handled a production knife that was superior in finish to this one, though the Al Mar and the Sebenza are clearly its equals and the Strider PT CC I am testing now could be in the same league.  There is a reason why KAI USA has won best overall knife for ages now at the annual Blade Show awards.

Grip: 2

The jimping is excellent, the handle shape is very good, the convex scales are awesome, the flipper and choil are nice, and the texturing from the CNC milling is outstanding.  There is nothing that makes this knife difficult to grip.  It makes a compelling case for big knives in general, but even accouting for the grip benefits inherent in the form, this is an excellent knife in the hand in virtually every position.

Carry: 1

KAI USA deserves a lot of credit for trying to make a beast carry like a button, but it is simply not possible.  Even with significant weight cutting efforts including milling of both the liner and the titanium lock side, the ZT560 is simply too big.  The guest review indicated that the clip, while good as a clip, impacted carry, and I think that is correct.  Using an over the top, deep carry clip here makes for a really challenging task--keeping all of that weight, especially the heavy pivot, from swinging around in your pocket like a pendulum.  Comparing it to the slightly smaller PM2 or the still under review Manix2 LW, this knife feels like your carrying a can of soda in your pocket.  Compared to an equally large and even heavier CRKT Eraser (which is also a flipper design), I think the deep carry clip is the culprit here.  The more traditional clip on the Eraser made for better carry.

Steel: 2 

I was unable to put this knife through the normal cut test of paper, cardboard and wood because I had some real cutting tasks to do and by the time I was finished, the blade was dull.  In addition to normal cutting tasks, opening packages and the like, I had two high volume tasks that really pushed the steel.  First, I cut down some branches and whittled them into roasting sticks for a fire. After that I cut up a very large amount of cardboard to make...well...a flamethrowing dragon.  My son's third birthday was during the testing period and someone is three only once, so after some serious cutting (like a couple of hours) I finally made a version of the dragon's head I liked out of cardboard and attached it my weed killing torch (it totally worked, BTW).  See:

These two less than serious cutting tasks were, nonetheless, very high volume and somewhat arduous.  The roasting sticks involved a good deal of chopping, both of green wood (mostly pine) and dry wood, and lots of whittling.  Overall I made something like 15-20 sticks.  Again, not the most punishing test, not like batonning, but a good test of the lock's stability and the blade's shock resistance and edge retention.  The cardboard was again not the most punishing thing in the world, but very high in volume.   

During both cutting tests the Elmax steel held up well.  The roasting sticks posed no problems whatsoever.  Even after chomping through sticky pine, the blade, once cleaned, was still shaving sharp (I will never have all my arm hair on my left arm at this pace of testing).   When I switched to cutting cardboard the Elmax did well for the first hour.  Towards the end of multiple dragon head prototypes, it started to slow down in push cuts.  I needed to do some sawing instead of just using down ward force.  In the end, the Elmax lost its edge and was no longer shaving sharp.  

Given the amount of cutting I did, even the relatively light tasks the Elmax was put through, I am confident that this steel warrants its reputation.  I am also confident that cardboard deserves its reputation as a superb testing medium and blade duller extraordinarie. 

Blade Shape: 2 

Some folks complained that the ZT560 didn't get the Spanto tip that the Hinderer made famous, but after using the ZT560 I can honestly say that I am more the satisfied with the ZT560's clip point blade.

It just works and is Exhibit 329 in the case for simple blade shapes.  I also like the swedge taken out of the top, that much steel gone will certainly save some weight.  

Grind: 2 

A nice, clean grind with an impeccable cutting bevel make the ZT560 a dream even with its thick blade stock.  Straight push cuts through what seemed like a metric ton of heavy duty cardboard were, well, not easy, but as easy as you could expect given the material and the blade size.  Like with the rest of the knife, the grind is superb.  

Deployment Method: 2 

The flipper is a "pull" flipper and an amazing fluid one.


This is my first knife with a bearing pivot and I can say that it is addictively smooth.  Only the Eraser approaches the level of smoothness in a flipper.  You need nothing more than mildly strong pull with your finger and the blade lops out of the handle.  A strong pull or a wrist flick sends the blade out with blinding speed.  It seems clear to me, having used a knife this big, that a bearing pivot is the final nail in the coffin of the need for an automatic knife.  You can do anything you need to do now without an auto, provided the knife is designed well. 

Retention Method: 2 

While I love the clip itself, I don't like its positioning.


That is more of a design and carry issue, as the clip itself is great--clean and well-designed.  I'd love to see this become the standard ZT clip or even better, the standard KAI USA clip.  It is really great. 

Lock: 2 

Aaron had issues with the lock.  See here:

After extensive use and actual attempts to recreate what happened with Aaron's ZT561 I could not duplicate it.  Be aware of the issue, but it seems to have been fixed, at least on newer ZT560s.

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

If you want cutting edge cutlery and you need it to be large, this has got to be a top choice.  I am unable to decide which I like better, this or the PM2. The PM2 carries better, but this deploys cleaner.  Both are amazing knives.  I like the Elmax steel a lot and that might be the tie breaker, if I were forced to choose (of course, sprint run PM2s are a different issue).  This is a great knife, really great, and an impressive exemplar of just how great gear is right now.  We are living in a golden age of gear and the ZT560 is proof of that.

CORRECTION:  This is not my first knife with a bearing pivot, obviously some of the CRKT blades have a bearing pivot as well.  It is my first knife with a KVT pivot.  The difference is that the IKBS pivot uses loose bearings in a channel or race around the pivot while the KVT system uses caged bearings.  Both are quite smooth.  


  1. What about the Swindle? That has IKBS.
    I've read a lot about the 560,a lot of good and bad on this one.
    One issue pretty relevant is ZT Elmax apparently sucking pretty badly.(

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