Sunday, October 13, 2013

ESEE Zancudo Review

What do you expect for $30?  That is the refrain that you hear across the internet, all over YouTube when talking about budget knives (which I think of as knives at or under $30).  This is often a prelude to a discussion of the flaws, failings, or weaknesses of a knife.  But in recent months, quite a few intriguing $30 and under blades have been released and a few others I just got around to reviewing.  The reality is that you can expect quite a bit for $30.  We no longer need to settle in the budget price range for flimsy locks, chintzy 440A steel, or horrendous pocket clips.

Three knives I have had the change to review really bring this into stark relief: the CRKT Drifter (aka The King of the Budget Blades), the Kershaw Zing SS, and the Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite.  Those are some ridiculous blades for the money and now they have a legitimate rival--the ESEE Zancudo.  I covered the extreme budget knives in this Shootout.   

Here is the product page from Blade HQ, as there is no product page on ESEE's website. The ESEE Zancudo costs $30.99.  There is a black coated version and a stonewashed version. Here is a thread on the Zancudo over at BladeForum, as this is the first written reveiw. Here is a video overeview. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the ESEE Zancudo, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:


Twitter Review Summary: Good affordable knife, a few dings, but an amazing blade shape.

Design: 1

I like this knife.  I really do.  It works well in the hand.  The blade shape is amazing.  But it is ugly.  The handle looks like it is pregnant.  It also looks like it has something of an ass.  I am not someone that really cares about a knife's appearance.  I like things that look especially good (have you seen, for instance, the Bark River Knife and Tool Essential?  Yowza, that is a good looking blade) and I dislike things that look really bad.  But the vast, vast majority of knives look fine.  This is one that is an exception to the rule.  Its not ridiculous, it just looks funny.  If you don't care how the knife works, then go ahead and give this thing a 2.  I, however, believe that good design is not just about making something that works, its also about making something that looks nice too.


The Zancudo is very close to the folding knife Golden Ratio, 3:4:7 and 3 (3 inch blade, 4 inch handle, 7 inches overall weighing 3 ounces).  Here is the knife next to the standard scale item, the Zippo:


The blade:handle is .73, which is good but not great.  The blade:weight is .94, which is quite good.  

Fit and Finish: 1

There are a few places where the Zancudo gets dinged here.  The first place is an actual ding:


There was a stray machining mark on the lock bar relief and it ends in a pointy ding.  Its not a big deal normally, but this is right where you hand goes.  This, alone would not be worth a point, especially on a knife this affordable.  The stonewash was also a little uneven.  Its nothing like the resplendent glory of the stonewash on  my Strider PT or the dark menacing stonewash on my XM-18.  It did get a little sticky when cutting food and gathered something a tint to it.  It was, okay really, but not ideal.  Again, that alone would not be worth a point.  Finally, there is the handle scale.  It is an FRN type material and it is grippy but feels overwhelmingly cheap.  I know this because I am a huge fan of FRN.  The FRN DF2 is probably my favorite knife, easily over the Nishijin and G10 versions.  I love FRN, so for it to feel cheap to me means that it will feel cheap to just about everyone on the planet.  Again, this isn't a performance impacting issue, just a feel thing.

Grip: 2

The jimping here is really "jimping" more than jimping, but that is not how this knife works.  The huge palm swell, that looks like a pregnant belly, is really great in the hand.  The tiny portion of the handle where your finge and thumb meet is great as well.  Here is the Zancudo in the hand:


I like this knife in the hand.  Everywhere else it is a meh.

Carry: 1

There are pocket clips and then there are ironing board refashioned into pocket clips.  This clip sits quite high and is very big.  As a clip it works decently (see below), but in terms of in the pocket, the Zancudo is a paint scrapper.  Look how pronounced it is here:


It is just a massive amount of surface area, given the size of the knife, with lots and lots of steel hanging out there.  

Steel: 1

AUS8 is fine in this role.  It gets sharp, doesn't hold an edge, and repels rust quite well.  I don't mind it at all.  In an inexpensive knife it is a good steel.  You are going to beat on this thing and AUS8's softness is perfect for that.  Beat it up, sharpen it, and don't worry about rust.  That is exactly what a $30 knife steel should do.

I pummeled the blade during testing.  I made two fires and horsed around in the woods with it and it did good.  I am not sure, at this point, which I perfer--this or a good satin or stonewashed 8Cr13MoV, but either way, the AUS8 worked exactly as you'd expect.  And that is another point.  Its quite handy to have a steel your familar with in a knife you intend to use hard or harder than you should.    

Blade Shape: 2

I almost did it.  I almost broke the scale here.  I LOVE the Zancudo blade shape.  It is simply sublime.  Simplicity in a Shaker sense--pure, unadulterated functionality.  Why hasn't this blade shape stormed the industry?  I have no idea.  

Grind:  2

The full flat grind here worked well in role.  The blade stock is quite thin, so the FFG allows for pretty damn good slicing abilities.  This thing slices like a razor.  Only the blotchy stonewash impeded the knife through material. 

Deployment Method: 2

The Zancudo uses very good, but not great thumb studs:


They are polished and smooth, but the terracing allows for good traction.  The knife can easily be coin flip opened.  The deep cut out in the handle allows for lots of purchase on the stud.

Retention Method: 1

The pocket clip itself holds the knife nice and tight to your pocket, though its position leaves a lot of steel exposed.  I do not light the tip though, as it can bunch on material.  Its a little too upturned for me, a problem here and on the Olight S10 Baton clip.  

Lock: 2

A steel framelock is quite a good lock.  This one took a real thumping and budged not at all.  The lock is stable as well, with no wiggle in the lock bar.  It is also easy to disengage.  Overall, I have zero complaints here.  

Overall Score: 15 out of 20

It seems like a low score, but this is a definitively DECENT knife.  For the money, you'd be hard pressed to find something that soaks up the beatings like this knife.  It is clearly the heir to the Ontario RAT lineage.  It has an awesome framelock that is probably a little more durable than the liner lock on the RAT.  It has a few drawbacks, but man is the blade shape awesome.   Go buy this knife.  Go thump on it.  You'll be surprised how much it can do.  It will be the knife you reach for when you don't want to mess up that $1000 custom.



  1. Anthony, I have to correct you. The Zancudo is NOT an ESEE knife. Rather, it is produced by Blade HQ using the Randall Adventure and Training brand and logo. The knife is made in Asia. All ESEE beranded knives are made by Rowen Mfg in the USA.

    Tom Z, NJ

    1. Tom your wrong. It is a Blue Ridge Knife product that licenses the ESEE name. It is not a Blade HQ exclusive either. I knew this prior to the review but I didn't think it added much, since you were curious there you go.

  2. "[The Zancudo] is clearly the heir to the Ontario RAT lineage."

    Doesn't the Ontario RAT 2 fit that description better? It's literally a RAT 1 reduced in size.

    If anything, my sense is that ESEE might have made some of the clunky design choices on the Zancudo (overblown clip, goofy "buttocks" at the end of the handle, random and unnecessary employment of a framelock) to try to come up with something that recalled the RAT 1 but didn't poach on Ontario's IP. Just my guess.

    I would argue that the RAT 2 is a better looking and more coherent design than the Zancudo, has the magic 3/4/7 proportions, really good fit & finish, and should be on your radar. (It would have fit great in the "EDC Stocking Stuffers Under $30" article on the other site.)

    It is a budget gem, Ontario taking aim at the Delica/Mini Grip category of iconic small EDC. You can get the plain-Jane, satin blade/black handle RAT 2 for $27 delivered for now.

  3. FWIW, I agree with Anon R.D. Especially when you consider the RAT II was announced in January of 2013 at SHOT Show and the Zancudo was announced in July by Jeff Randall on his own forum. The Zancudo was *supposed* to be the folder ESEE fans had been screaming for for so long, but since it's not made by either ESEE or Ontario, I don't see how it's the heir to any RAT lineage.

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