Friday, July 4, 2014

Cold Steel Voyager 3" Clip Point Review

Its been more than three years since I started this site.  In that time one of my goals was to review each of the standard bearer knives for each of the major brands (post forthcoming comparing all of them).  Cold Steel's standard bearer is the Voyager line.  And this review marks the final standard bearer blade to be evaluated.

The Voyager has been in production for years and over time, it has changed many times.  The handle shape has become more nuanced, less "jelly bean".  The lock has been upgraded to the excellent Demko Tri-Ad Lock.  The pocket clip has been altered, unforunately for the worst.  Has all this change been for the better? Let's find out.

Here is the product page. The 3" Voyager costs $46.95. Here is a written review from some guy named Dan. Here is a video review from some guy probably not really named Nutnfancy. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Voyager, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample (on loan from Everyday Commentary contributor Ben Schwartz):


Twitter Review Summary:  Quirky, beefy, and capable, but not great.

Design: 1

While the jelly bean handles were bland looking they afforded a wide number of grips.  The new design essentially tells you how to hold the knife.  That's a design flaw, but one that I will look at in more detail below.  The big sin here is the bulk, in particular, the thickness.  This knife is positively chubby.  Including the clip it is three times as thick as a Cadet.  But all of that thickness is really a waste.  It was done, undoubtedly to accommodate the aluminum liners, which even Cold Steel has proven are unnecessary (their Recon line has no liners under the G10 handles and is more than strong enough).  If there was some trade off, some reason why, I would have less of an issue with the thickness.  In the end it makes this knife a true pocket hog.  Its virtually impossible to carry anything else in that pocket.  Forget about coin pocket carry (but, to be fair, if you are thinking about a Cold Steel knife coin pocket carry ain't your thing).  


Here is a good size comparison (or a fun picture, one or the other) between an larval form of the Lithophane Atennata and the Voyager:


The performance ratios are good.   The blade:handle is a very respectable .70, just about middle of the pack for the knives I have reviewed.  The blade:weight is even better, around .97.  The issue with the design isn't its size, its the knife's volume.  I am still working on how to measure that (thanks for the suggestions folks).

Fit and Finish: 2

For a company with a remarkably cave man image and advertising, Cold Steel regularly and consistently nails the fit and finish on its knives.  The Voyager, like the Mini Tuff Lite, the Recon, and the Mini AK-47 has a very smooth pivot with excellent action, well above average for a lock back.  The blade centering is excellent as well and the stonewash is very nice and even, just short of the stonewash found on uber premium production knives like the Strider and the XM-18.  Nothing on the Voyager disappointed in terms of its finish.  All around excellence.

Grip: 1

Its odd to find a folder this thick.  In one sense it makes for an excellent knife in the hand, with a palm-filling feel.  Unfortunately all of that material is rounded and cut into a shape that demands you to grip the knife in only one of two ways.  The handle is vaguely reminiscent of the handle on the Mini AK-47 and that knife lots points for poor affordance. 


That alone is worth probably a full point, but just in case it isn't, the position of the hand, about 3/4 of an inch from the blade gives you well below average control, something unacceptable on a knife this small.  

The texturing is, thankfully, tamed down from the insane grippiness of the Recon G10, with a pleasing to the eye and pleasing to the handle, cruciform pattern.  The chamfering around the handle is good.  There is no jimping to speak of, those grooves are mere decoration, but with the shape of the handle, its not really much of a concern.    


In all, the grip on this knife is very complex.  In one sense it is good and hand-filling.  In another sense it is awful, bossing you around and telling you how to hold it.  That's a 1, but I wouldn't object if someone scored this knife as a 0 in terms of grip. 

Carry: 1

For a 3 inch blade this thing carries very large.  Not only is it very thick, the clip is placed awkwardly and the knife is quite wide. There is a good deal of blade sticking out of the handle, making the Voyager a pocket road block.  Its very light, even with the liners, so you can't complain too much, but I think I'd rather have an older model with its slim profile and no liners.

Steel: 1

AUS-8--the very definition of an average steel.  Cold Steel's version tends to be soft and tough, never chipping but often in need of sharpening.  Its a good choice on a beginner's knife or on a knife you plan on thumping on (which is perhaps, the very best application for Cold Steel blades).  Thankfully, this knife does not run Cold Steel's wretched blade paint.  Be clear, its not coating, definitely not PVD or TiNitride or ceracote.  Its paint and bad, flaky paint at that.  None of that here and everyone's better off for it. 

Blade Shape: 1

The tip is fine, the belly is fine.  In terms of performance, the blade shape is great.  But it is so aggressive looking, so antisocial, that its uncomfortable to use the blade in public.  This isn't the knife you open your kid's toy with, it will scare the bejesus out of people.  


And there is no real reason for the shape.  A simple drop point would work just as well or better, as proven by the Recon 1.  I'd much, much prefer that shape than this uber-aggro clip point.  I'd even prefer a more modest clip, like those found on Case knives, to this Sinbad looking thing.  It might be great in tactical applications, but the rest of the time (read: all of the time) something more modest would be better. 

Grind: 2

Cold Steel's simple full flat grind is excellent.  The cutting bevel is nice and wide and the main grind is consistent and even.  I still think SOG does grinds better than everyone else, but Cold Steel is the Tom Petty of grinds--consistently good, but never great (I am a Tom Petty fan, so don't complain). 

Deployment Method: 2

Cold Steel's screw thread thumb studs are a rare design masterstroke in the Cold Steel design language.  They have a lot of brilliant engineering and tons of overbuilt stuff, but the simple and switchable thumb studs no only provide great traction, they look good and allow for ambidextrous deployment quickly.  


Retention Method: 1

I don't like the fact that the clip is not ambidextrous.  It just gives you one more part to lose.  I am not going to say I hate it, but a little forethought could eliminate this problem.  


It works well, is nicely tensioned, and isn't a paint scraper, but it is average if not slightly below.

Lock: 2

Tri-Ad lock rocks.  Ambidextrous, easy to use, tough as a rhino.  AWESOME. 

Overall Score: 14 out of 20

The Voyager has a big knife feel and lock with a small blade.  It is chunky and awkward in the hand, but it does cut well and is insanely tough.  Its hard to say its a bad blade, but it is not as good as the Recon series.  In the end, the changes, other than the lock and the thumb stud, are not improvements.  I'd love to see the old Voyager handle with a Tri-Ad lock and a threaded thumb stud.  The Voyager isn't bad but in this part of the market you can do better.  And for a little more money you can do better in the Cold Steel line up.   

The Competition

The Mini Aegis is one of the very best EDC knives out there, for the money.  The comparison here is really interesting.  The materials are essentially identical--AUS 8 and FRN.  But the designs and the purpose of the two knives are diametrically opposed.  The Mini Aegis is fast, convenient, and light.  Its big for a 3" blade and the assist can appear to be an auto to the untrained eye, but it is much more people friendly than the clip point Voyager, which just looks Iike a murder weapon from a Dateline "crime" episode.  I would almost always opt for the Mini Aegis, but those with lots of heavy duty tasks would almost certainly prefer the beefy Voyager.  Can't beat a 2 ounce knife with a 3 inch blade for EDC, but if you are a knife torturer, the Voyager will last much longer before it breaks.    


  1. I saw this one coming and unfortunately, while generally fair (with one exception, see below) it strikes me as a missed opportunity.

    A lot of the quirks with the Medium Voyager arise because this is not Cold Steel's standard bearer knife. The 4" (Large) Voyager is clearly that knife. The 3" is an afterthought; the handle shape alone shows that. You can't even get your pinky inside the grip! The ergo problems you experienced dissolve with the 4" Voyager. It works well in hammer grip, and awesome in saber and reverse grips. The width of the aluminum-lined handles that you found inappropriately chunky on this smallest Voyager knife is proportional and appropriately hand-filling on the Large, as if the handle build was really designed around that knife (which I suspect to be the case).

    The business about docking a point for the supposedly scary Blade shape here is strained. I don't see why the clip point here is so terrifying that it gets a 1, as if deploying a ZT0801, Paramilitary 2, or Southard (all scored 2s) at the picnic isn't going to scare knife-averse people at least as much?

    On the merits the Voyager clip point is a 2. It's good for piercing (to start a cut on tough material and such), it's strong, cuts are controllable, and you have a nice belly.

    If the 3.875" blade CRKT Eraser merits a review (btw, how about deploying that one at Pottery Barn? "Snikt!" Blade Shape 2/2) then the extra 0.125" of blade on the Large Voyager should not have disqualified it from the review slot either. It would have merited around a 17/20 (+1 Design, Grip, Blade) and that might be better worth informing readers about as the "just right" size between the compromised M and the comically huge XL Voyager.

    The editorial voice on the modern knife reviews here is shifting. Your center of gravity is moving further away from the typical modern knife and toward small, very innocuous, more traditional knives. Me, I wear a Large Voyager to church. No one cares.

    I would be surprised if the L doesn't outsell the M by quite a bit. Maybe I'm wrong.

    Anyway, thanks for reading this somewhat negative comment. You deserve huge respect for your willingness to air criticisms. The discourse norms here are the antithesis of some places in the online knife world and that's a big deal.

    1. A 3" blade is something of a magic number for a lot of folks (see here: As such, it seems appropriate to review that sized blade. I get that Cold Steel knives run big, as is the tradition in the company, but given the state of the laws across the country it seems silly to make your 3" blade an afterthought.

      Additionally there are a lot of companies that do scale down (or scale up) knives for their standard bearer blades and they do them well. The Delica isn't just a Endura with the middle taken out, it is a knife that has been shrunk and proportioned to fit the blade size, same with the Mini Aegis and the Aegis, and the Mini Grip and the full-sized Grip. The fact that Cold Steel couldn't do that with its 3 inch blade is a design flaw, plain and simple. How else do I know that it is a design flaw? They could do it for the Mini Recon, a 3" inch blade. That knife was excellent, ergonomically speaking, light years ahead of the 3" Voyager. Cold Steel can do good small knives, as the Mini Recon, Mini Tuff Light, and Small American Lawman all demonstrate. They just didn't bother here and given the number of people that live in states with laws that limit blades over 3" that is stupid or lazy or both.

      As for the blade shape, its not a good choice for a small EDC blade. Of course the ZT0801, PM2, and Eraser attract attention. They are large blades and I don't really consider them "friendly" EDC options. If I am on a hike, sure, but around town and at the grocery store, I not so sure. The fact that there is no option for a drop point, like there is in the Recon line, is again, a stupid and/or lazy move. There is no real dispute--the extreme clip point/Bowie shape is designed for stabbing and slashing, something that few people do with a 3" knife. Something more practical, less aggressive looking would do well on a 3" knife. The Recon has one. Why not the Voyager?

      I would like the blade more, but the handle sits your hand so far behind the cutting edge, its tough to use compared to something like a Dragonfly 2. I got a lot of the "dialing the telephone with a broom handle" feeling with the Voyager that I never get from a DF2.

      I do prefer smaller blades, no doubt. But I also like big blades. The PM2 did well in the review. The Eraser did well. The SR1a is going to do well. The problem here is that the 3" Voyager has all of the drawbacks of a big blade with none of the benefits (control) of a smaller blade. It is truly an afterthought and given the knife laws in this country, that's dumb. A smidge of effort and the knife could have been much better. They wouldn't have been able to amortize parts and design elements over the entire line like they do now, but the effort could have been worth it.

      After your remarks, I might just have to track down the 4" version. The points you made are excellent ones, but I think we are just having different reactions to the same point neither of us dispute. We both think the 3" version was an afterthought. I think that is a shame, and I get the sense you think people should just buy the 4" model. For a lot of folks though, that's not possible, given the knife laws in their state.

    2. Great response. I agree that the Mini Recon 1 does the 3" length vastly better than the Voyager. If only it didn't have the dumb teflon paint...

      Honestly I think the reason for the clip point is that this is a tough built, sub-$50, hybrid tactical/EDC knife intended for people with 3" blade length limits. Which ties in with some of the points you made. Do I think those people might be better served with an FFG Delica? Yeah, especially since you can also get a dedicated trainer for the Delica. But I'm a suburbanite; if I had a more rural locale I might not think the same. A Delica is not nearly as sturdy a knife as the Med. Voyager.

      I agree that we are coming at this knife with different premises. I assume at least a 4" blade length limit as the norm and I do the Nutnfancy "two knives" thing; if I need to peel a pear in the office it'll be the Alox Cadet that comes out. So I want my bigger knife to be a balance of tough utility function (which is 99.9% of what it'll be used for) and defensive use. Post-Demko Cold Steel absolutely owns this product category. It's not a category you care about.

      (This is also the reason the guy who guest reviewed the Mini AK started out with a sentence about how CS is one of the top production folder companies; you added an ed. comment dissenting from that. But if you care about being able to fight well with your larger folder, without sacrificing utility, they really are one of the very best. If you are just looking at them as utility only, they are merely above average. Which is what we see in how the scores for CS blades shake out here.

      Huge areas of agreement here, then. I think the 4" Voyager is good enough for thrashing around utility tasks that you would appreciate it. Bearing in mind that it is a well fit & finished, brute tough knife that is available for $45 shipped, that is a hard set of features to find elsewhere.

  2. I tend to lean toward Tony's viewpoint, but I think this is a really good, constructive comment.

    In particular, it's hard to argue that a more aggressive clip point probably is better for piercing, even if it looks scarier.

    That said, I have never handled any of the cold steel knives mentioned here.

    1. I meant for this to be in response to anon r.d.

  3. Interesting review, Tony. Ultimately I agree that this is not a perfect edc knife. The thickness and ergonomics prevent that. But I still enjoy this knife. The Large Voyager is a real workhorse, and this stubby version is fun and functional. I think I enjoy it because it is well made. I do think Anon brings up some good points.

  4. Hey gents I own and edc the Medium Voyager. I also edc the Spyderco Delica 4,the Benchmade Presidio Mini Ultra, and the Ontario Rat 2.The Spyderco gets more negative reaction from non knife people than my Voyager, Rat 2 or Benchmade. The Voyager is a better slicer and hard use folder than all the others. I wish Cold Steel would just fix the damn clip,it rips up your pockets.

    1. Yeah, the pocket clip needs a little attention.

      Get some fairly fine grit sandpaper and do a few strokes on the Zytel/Grivory handle -- just where the clip touches it, to smooth down the bumps of the "Maltese Cross" pattern texturing. Go slow, just a few strokes are needed. Then you will have nice balanced clip tension that will retain but won't shred your pockets.

      I also did this with the rough G10 under the pocket clip on my Mini Recon 1. (Unlike Tony, I love the texture of the Recons' G10 for its grip ergos, but he is right that it is catastrophic on pants pockets if not modified.)

      No, you should not have to do that on a $45 knife, but at least it's fixable. I will say that the clip facilitates fairly discreet carry. When I carry the Large Voyager in jeans there is a lot more knife in my pocket than you would think from seeing the smallish, dark clip and bit of handle that peeps out.

  5. I somewhat disagree on the blade shape, as I am concerned with functionality much more than diplomacy and a clip point is very functional indeed. That aside, good points and good review. The Large Voyager is a very nice knife, but the medium has always struck me as a f8sh out of water. I don't think it desperately needs a redesign simply because Cold Steel already has knives around the same size that are just much better, but if they dropped the Medium from their line it wouldn't hurt my feelings in the least.

    1. A clip point as pronounced as this is designed for slashing and stabbing, two things I rarely if ever do in the course of normal EDC tasks. That said, supposing they are both exactly the same level of functionality, I'd take a drop point or sheepsfoot any day. I am not big into diplomacy either, but if the two knife shapes are equally functional, I'd take the one that is more people friendly any day of the week. The blade on the Cadet or the Indian River Jack won't scare anyone. This one might.

    2. Looking at some videos today I notice that the clip point swedge on the Large Voyager is a good deal longer and more gradual than the one on the Medium. Function of a greater blade length with a similar blade width.

      Not going to try to argue that the L is a diplomatic looking blade -- it ain't! -- but this is another reason why you might find the Large "gels" and makes sense as a design in a way the Medium doesn't.

  6. I find the medium Voyager an excellent knife.
    Great slicer, very good ergonomics regarding the grip.
    And a very tough lock that you can really trust.
    I actually think that this medium Voyager is the best of the mini's that Cold Steel has made.
    When I need to cut something I always see myself grabbing the Voyager 3 inch blade over the others.
    It just cuts so well.
    And I sold the other mini folders of Cold Steel.
    The difference was that great .

    1. Then again.
      I do find the edge as said in the review too far away from the handle.
      As is the case with more Cold Steel Folders.
      The puukko/mora style of edge near the handle is my ideal knife.
      The closer the edge is near the handle the more power you can put into a cut.

      And the handle is actually too thick for a short pocket knife.
      For pocket carry , I want the handle to be slim but with rounded edges , that means, some good ergonomics.
      I have seen too many knives with sharp edges on the handles.

  7. Right now the various Medium and Large Voyagers are going for crazy prices online, like $35 to $40 shipped. That is such a good deal for what you get. At that price I would encourage anyone who is on the fence, would like to try a Tri-Ad knife, and/or wants a dirt-tough budget defensive folder (I SAID IT) to take the plunge.

    I'm not gonna buy a Medium, because I just can't get along with the awkward 3-finger grip plus my pinky off in the next zip code. But I am seriously considering picking up a spare Large because it is a great workhorse.

    NB: if you have smallish hands (= some men and many women), then you might want to ignore all these complaints about grip ergos on the Medium Voyager. I am told that for small handed people it is a true 4-finger knife that feels good in the hand and gives your fingers full protection inside the handle. At $35 that sounds like a huge win.