Friday, January 2, 2015

My Gear of the Year Ballot

Overall Product of the Year:  L3 Illumination L10C

Nominees: 

Zero Tolerance ZT0454
Graham Stubby Razel Midtech

This is a tough choice, but I think it is the right one.  There was a lot of good gear this year, but the VAST, VAST majority of it was very expensive.  Andrew has done an excellent job of persuading me that accessibility is a tremendously important part of design.  Given the fact that the L3 Illumination L10C with Nichia 219 emitter runs $33 plus shipping, its hard to argue with its accessibility.  Priced like a budget light, the features and performance are anything but.  The light hits 120 lumens on a single alkaline AA and it has a whisper bright .09 moonlight mode, giving you stellar performance (for the format) at both ends of the spectrum.  The clip is no bullshit and the clicky is one of the best I have seen on a light, regardless of price.  The L10C is the anti-Instagram piece of gear--its not flashy, it looks boring in fact, but it works exceedingly well.  For me, there was no better piece of gear released in 2014 than this light.  Oh, and it is also one of cheapest Nichia 219 equipped torch I know of (the other similarly priced light is the EagleTac D25AAA)--tint snobbery perfection in a budget package...very unusual.  

I am going to talk about the ZT0454 and the IRJ below, but the Graham Stubby Midtech is relevant here.  This was a close call.  I simply love this knife to no end.  It does so many things right and DIFFERENTLY that it is a true wonder.  Graham's first run of midtechs were sticky.  This thing is utter perfection.  The clip, the blade shape, everything was a home run.  In the end, I just can't shake a $120 light that sells for $33, but the Stubby Midtech was a close second.

Company of the Year: KAI USA

Nominees:


The ZT0454, the ZT0888MAX, the Emerson collabs, the ZT0562, the Nura...the hits kept coming.  KAI has been darn good for a while, but this year they really flexed their muscles and showed us just how good production knives can be.  Its really amazing how good they were throughout the price spectrum.  They have stuff that competed at the very low end, like the Chill, in the middle, like the G10 Cryo, and way at the top with the ZT0454 or the ZT0888MAX.  Thomas and Company crushed it this year. In fact they only made one real mistake--the garish, hideous Kershaw Ruby.  What I wouldn't give for a blacked out version, where the whole knife looked like the lock side.  

Chad Nichols was also close here, emerging in a different space in the market. His damascus is great, but it is his OEM work on awesome midtechs, like the Grahams, the Southard Avo, and the Burch midtech, that puts him here.  I loved the Stubby Razel, but lots of people want bigger blades and the Avo is just that.  No one did more to bring customs to the masses than Chad Nichols.  A $350 Graham?  A $400 Southard?  Yes, please.

CRKT won last year and this year was pretty darn good, too. That said, KAI launched something like twice as many models as CRKT did. Now, CRKT is a much smaller company and they did win overall blade of the year for the Hi Jinx, but it was not QUITE as impressive a showing.  In 9 out 10 years though, they would have won this award.  Next year looks damn good already.  Its nice to see a company successfully changing their market position.  Wharton types should study CRKT to show how a company can go from the low price bracket to the middle and high price bracket in a short period of time.  

Nock Co. is brand new (or a new brand). They launched a Kickstarter, sold some pen cases, and then launched a store, and more new products.  I am a hardcore pen user (that needs to step up to some higher end tools; seems like a waste to have a SPY 007 flashlight and use it twice a day, but have a $50 pen and use it for hours on end) and their smartly made, nice looking cases are inexpensive, but high quality.  I am stoked to see what they do next year.  

Best Value: Northwoods Knives Indian River Jack

Nominees:

Graham Stubby Razel Midtech

The smooth bone version of the IRJ sold for $129.  They released a few of the 2015 models, basically the same knife with a long pull instead of a traditional crescent moon nail knick, and they were the same price.  What you get for that still sizable amount of money is crazy nice.  First, there is the steel, CPM154.  This happens to be one of my favorite steels--good edge retention, good rust resistance, and easy to sharpen and strop.  Then there are the traditional knife touches--the immaculate covers and the shield inlay--all of which are done to perfection.  And then there is the action--absolutely dialed in.  I have handled a few different IRJs and they were all flawless.  But the fit and finish is not the only reason they are great. Its the design too.  Its just perfect for EDC--slim,classy, and truly high performance.  It is the ideal combination of the traditional knife design (super slicey blades) and modern design (high end steel).  The IRJ compares very favorably to knives three times the price, like the Chris Reeve Mnandi.  Just go buy this knife when it comes out again.

The Graham Midtech is something I have mentioned already, but the two Kershaws deserve a little time.  Kudos to Kershaw for releasing a better version of an already best-selling (but underwhelming) knife.  In the Cryo G10 the small upgrades add up to a large performance increase.  For around $40 street, this is a good buy.  But the non-catalog (meaning it is not listed on their webpage or available to dealers, but is available to specific chain stores, in this case places like Dick's Sporting Goods) Zing is even better (there is a pattern here, the SS Cryo was not as good a knife as the SS Zing, but flavor of the month trends makes one a much better seller than the other).  The Zing is lighter, has more blade in the same sized handled, has identical materials (G10, 8CR13MoV), and is half the price.  You could pay $20 more for a Hindererized Kershaw or just get the Zing.  The Kizer is part of a growing number of knives from China that rival the best knives in the world.  The Ki-3404-4 is a super slick flipper with S35VN.  If it were made in the US it would sell for $350.  As it is, savor the $125 price tag. 

Most Innovative Tool: Leatherman Leap

Nominees: 


The Leap is a tool that opens up a whole new market.  It is a tool that teaches kids how to use tools.  It is a brightly colored munition in the war against raising kids that can't do things for themselves.  It also happens to be an excellent tool on its own.  There is simply nothing else that was as creative or interesting this year.  The locking mechanisms, the blade removability, and the shape of the knife are all proof that Leatherman thought this one out.  Excellent job.  My little guy LOVED the Leap.

The HIT is quite good and is really a close second here.  The swinging handle/blade guard is a genius idea one that solves two problems--shitty sheathes on fixed blades that are difficult to make and heavy sheathes.  I want to review one but their availability has been spotty--when the site has cash, dealers are all out.  It will line up some day, so be ready.  The Adventurer's magnetic sheath is another take on the sheath problem and it worked well, even if it did screw up the clean lines of the leather sheath.  The  S10R is oLight's take on a complete flashlight system and it looks quite nice.  Even the charger is good looking. In the end though, the Leap was just too good of an idea.

Best Production Knife: Zero Tolerance ZT0454

Nominees:

James Chapter Knife
Bark River Adventurer Neck Knife

I handled a ZT454.  I had it in my possession for a few days. It ultimately left in a deal that brought in a knife I was much more likely to carry and use (the Graham Stubby), but in the few days I had it I was really thinking about changing my preference for small blades.  It was, in the end, too massive.  I don't have blades I don't carry, so it went on its way, but man was it close to breaking all sorts of personal knife related rules. The reason is simple--its level of design excellence and execution is the highest I have ever seen in a production knife.  It rivals many, many customs. Only the rarified air, the Ron Lakes, Michael Walkers, and like are clearly superior.  And when you are comparing it to modern or tactical style customs, there is nothing I have seen that is flatout better.  The most notable of its many tricks is its weight. This is a 4 inch blade that weighs something like 4 ounces.  Holy Moley!  This was an easy winner.

Its not often that a new knife company comes into existence.  It is even rarer that they start making stuff this good looking right away.  A Chapter Knife is on its way in for review, so let's see if the hype matches the knife.  The Hi Jinx was awesome and in a year without the ZT0454 would probably have won. But the knife I want to highlight here the most is the Adventurer.  It really is a superb blade and perhaps the ideal collaboration.  Murray Carter + Bark River = Awesome.  Simply put, this was the sexiest fixed blade released this year. And with Bark River, unlike many fixed blade makers, you can get new, top shelf steel. The Adventurer is awesome.

Best Custom Knife: GTC Airborne

Nominees:

Tim Curry Myrmidon
Ver Steeg Imp

Gus Cecchini has been making otherworldly blades for a long, long time.  His unusual shapes, logic-defying inserts (a GLASS insert) and totally original touches, have put him in a class by himself.  But the new Airborne's flipper mechanism is just insane.  If it was just that, it would probably still win, but then there are all of the other Gus touches.  And finally, Laffer said it was his favorite, and if anyone knows customs, its that guy.

Tim Curry's knives have exploded on the Instagram and USN scene and for good reason--they are clean, well made, and downright awesome.  Sculpted Ti handles, smokey, almost ghostly hamons, and smooth action make them easily covetable items. The custom most likely to get used (and work incredibly well) is the Ver Steeg Imp.  I can't tell you how awesome this knife is.  You just need to experience it for yourself.  Its tiny, but stout, and came insanely sharp, as sharp as any knife I have ever seen.  And after some therapeutic stropping (I find it a stress release), it is lightsaber sharp.  And it still drops in the coin pocket of your jeans.  Its a simple design and one of my favorites.  Kyle can't seem to make a dud if he tried.  The Imp is long gone, but there is a stouter version, the Grendel, that is out there.

Best Production Light: R-Pal Lantern

Nominees:
oLight Baton S10R

Every single nominee was absolutely solid, but none were as interesting as the R-Pal.  Note that the one win per product rule bars the L10C from winning here.  The R-PAL is where lanterns will go in the future.  Until the R-Pal they have all been absolute boat anchors powered by roughly three pounds of batteries.  The R-Pal is both lighter and higher performing.  At $129 its not THAT much more than something like the abysmal Gerber Freescape Lantern.  And it blows away the $10 lanterns on store shelves.  This is the future and it was a no-brainer for best production light.

The other three lights are very capable, but they are not the game changer that the R-Pal is.  I liked the T10T, but it was not even half the light the L10C was.  The E05 is an awesome AAA light, but again, I liked the L10C better.  And well,the S10R is sort of like one of the bazillions of 3DS "upgrades"--its the same (nice) light with more stuff. The EagleTac D25 AAA is yet another attempt at a total flashlight system based on the 1xAAA format and it is both cheap and runs the Nichia 219 emitter.  If you prefer AAA to AA then this is your light over the L10C. 

Best Custom Light:  Moddoolar Pocket Wasp

Nominees:

Muyshondt Spinner
Tain Ottavino

This as been a pretty awful year for custom lights.  Rob of Lummi rebranded himself AGAIN and sold lights on Etsy, or more accurately took money from people for the promise of a light on Etsy.  Mac, of Mac's Customs, seems to have disappeared. Neither McGizmo nor Cool Fall released a new product this year.  Enrique Muyshondt did his thing very well this year released the Mako Mk. II and the Spinner, his first AA light.  Tainmania continued, but he too released upgrades.  I know of a few new lights from new makers coming in 2015, so next year will be more exciting but this year has been a snoozefest interrupted by bad news.  Malkoff's MDC series looks pretty awesome, but they aren't true customs and the first generation of the lights came out in 2013.

All looked lost until the VERY end of the year.  In late December, AFTER Christmas in fact, Oveready released a light, technically just a new head, the Wasp, with a radical air-cooling system.  We can quibble over whether it is a true custom or not, but the small numbers, radical design, and price tag make it close enough for me. I reviewed the original Moddoolar Pocket and it was an amazing light, but it got hotter than a car seat in August.  The air cooling system, while not making the light brighter or easier to control, is really something new. It is also a feat of enigneering and machining.  It also looks amazing, which doesn't count for a lot, but it is something worth mentioning. A light that can truly fit in your pocket and produce 2600 lumens is impressive.  One that takes heat into consideration is even nicer.  When you add on the brilliance of the Triad tailcap, plus a nice clip, you have a real winner.  I had literally written off this entire category, having written the first paragraph, the one above, and then the Wasp comes out.  Phew...that was a close one.

Best Pack: TAD Litespeed

Nominees:


The TAD Litespeed Updates look great and when you make great better, its hard to beat.  That said, there are a billion and one bags out there I am not confident I picked the best.  

Last year I was fascinated by the gadget charging packs, but EVERYONE and I mean everyone complained about their lack of capacity.  The new North Face Router Charged has a larger capacity solar cell and it looks like it might actually take these bags from proof of concept to actual utility.  Only time, and a decision to buy one for review, will tell.  And while I hated, hated, hated the Topo Designs Daypack, the Mountain Briefcase looks good and comes with good reviews from both Brad Dowdy and Myke Hurley, two guys whose opinions hold a lot of sway with me.  I might review one, but I can't imagine it would replace my Bihn Cadet.  You can have that when you pry it from my....you know. 

Then there is the Bexar Hudson Satchel.  There are a million "boutique" leather bags out there, from Saddleback, from any number of others, but there is something so appealing about the Hudson.  Its clean lines and its got enough organization not to be stupidly childish.  Something from Bexar is coming my way.  I am just not sure what it is.  


Nominees:


This is the closest category as the Karas Customs Ink looks incredible.  In the end, despite my love for them, I still think fountain pens aren't PERFECT EDC pens. You can't quite thrash on them like you would with an ballpoint of gel tip.  And so the Shaker takes the crown. Both are great, but the Shaker's uber clean lines are hard to beat.  In more ways than one it is the iPhone of EDC pens.  The Liliput looks great, but knife guys aren't impressed by the price tag supposedly justified by the bluing of the metal barrel. Its a pretty pen, but not price justified.

Best Multitool: Spyderco Clipitool Driver

Nominees:

Vox Snailor

Based on Instagram popularity it should be the Snailor, but I am not exactly sure why this thing is so popular.  In many ways our obsession with small trinkets and things made by famous knife makers has pushed us into pet rock territory in terms of utility.  All of the beads and "multitools" don't seem to do a whole lot, so I can't give the Snailor an award.  BTW  there is an ACTUAL totally useless Pet Rock of the gear world and it is the GLASS sculpture of Prometheus Design Werx's octopus. And it is quite expensive.  WTF?

Sorry for the rant. Well, the Clipitool is quite a nice showing from Spyderco.  It's well made and in the driver configuration, its quite handy.  The BTN #4 is one of the best one piece multitools available but its not quite as useful as the Clipitool.  I also really like the RUT, it just happens to be so expensive I can never price justify it.  $149 box cutter is a strong challenge to financial prudence, regardless of who makes it. 

Best Accessory: Edge Observer Lanyard Beads

Nominees:

Lynch 3-hole Pocket Clip
Aegis EDCi Solution

I am an avowed hater of lanyard beads.  I hate them.  But...well...Andrew's clean, simple aesthetic and nice finish make them the only bead I'd ever consider.  Given my disdain for all others, that is an accomplishment.  Call me a shill if you want, but its seems clear to me that this is the best bead for me.

Caseey Lynch makes some awesome gear and his over-the-top Spyderco compatible pocket clip is one of them (his pry tool is another).  The clip works with any Spyderco that has a triangle, three screw configuration (like the Delica and PM2, but not the Caly Jr.).  Its in full production and works really well. Henry makes a great, truly great flashlight, but his success with pocket clips has been...um...varied.  The first clip for the Clicky was a monstrous, ugly beast.  The second clip, a washer style clip, is awesome.  The new universal clip seems to be able to be mounted on even a HDS Rotary.  How that works I have yet to see, but one is on its way to me, so stay tuned.  That said, a universal clip for a universally great set of lights is definitely worth a mention.  

Best EDC-related Crowd Funded Project: Sugar Creek Forge Build Along

Nominees:

Project Hate
Knife Thursday Coffee

Gathering funds for a forge in Uganda is an awesome thing--a way our community can come together and make a difference.  Doing that while teaching folks how to make a knife is SUPER cool.  

Project Hate was covered on Justin's ballot and it is a great thing.  I also like the idea of using the NPR/PBS model to support podcasts, so Chris and Steve's coffee money idea is a pleasant, cheap way to keep the good stuff coming. 

Best Website/YouTube/Podcast/Instagram: Utility Talk

Nominees:

Knife Journal Podcast

I remain wholly unconvinced that Instagram is anything more than a fad, so I am not going to award this to an Instagram feed. Its lack connectivity--such as an inability to natively repost and unnecessary hurdles to link to the web--make me think the next picture based app will actually be the one that lasts. But in terms of quality, regardless of format, Utility Talk is up there.  It started out as two dudes goofing around (oh the history that is made by two dudes goofing around--airplanes, Microsoft, the Chicago Cubs 2015 line up), and now it is an important part of the gear community with great long form interviews with industry insiders...well with KAI USA, but still...they did great work.  

Knife Journal also had a great year, but last year was big for them too. Jim and Kyle do great work talking and teaching. They have also segmented their discussions so the apolitical can skip the ranty stuff. More than Just Surviving is a site I frequent a good deal and it is in the old Feedly feed.  Thomas and Elise do a good job with reviews and they both take amazing pictures--photojournalist style.  There are few product literature shots and the site is better for it.  Pivot and Tang is a high concept site, much like Edge Observer, and his reviews are clear, clean, and concise (Descartes would be proud).  

Community Leader: Chris Weinstein

Nominees:

Mario Contino
Weiners and Steel
James Nowka

Chris IS the knife community.  By focusing relentlessly on the community aspects of the knife world instead of the technical and design minutae (like I do) he has broadened the tent and brought in tens of thousands of new folks.  Every knife company should send him a free blade.  He's brought in that much business.  Plus his everyman approach is both funny and likeable.  

Mario has raised the bar for his video reviews, his podcast...everything. This year was a year he did a ton of work.  I'd love to see him get a job in the business, a la Ben Peterson.  If Chris Weinstein broadened the tent, the Weiners and Steel guys made it cool to be inside. Their show, filled with kilobuck blades and Jersey accents, is a can't miss.  James Nowka could be community leader just about every year and this year he took a leading role, reminding folks that there is a history to knives and that knives didn't start being made in the 1980s with the Spyderco Worker.  His experience and breadth of knowledge is heartening and his firebrand style is audio caffeine, it wakes up and challenges the brain, appropriate given his own drinking preferences.  

Remember to comment below with your gear of the year choices and you could win your choice of either the Kizer Ki 3404-4 or the BRKT Adventurer.  

24 comments:

  1. Pretty well thought out ballot Tony. My only issue is the fact that neither RJ Martin's pivotless pivot in the new Devastators or the Brian Nadeau Typhoon made even the nomination list for custom knife of the year. Both of them won awards at Blade.

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  2. Here's my attempt at a ballot:

    Overall Product of the Year: ZT0454, nuff said
    Company of the Year: KAI USA, Slayed it this year. Emerson collabs, new Hinderer collabs (0562!), KVT in value knives, the ZT0770, so many things to choose from.
    Best Value: Kershaw Strobe. Diskin design, KVT, 8cr, sub $40
    Most Innovative Tool: Klecker Klax

    Best Production Knife: ZT0620cf. Emerson design, ZT fit and finish, framelock and no chisel grind… yes please

    Best Custom Knife: RJ Martin pivotless pivot knives (devastator/devilstator). Not every day you get a completely redesigned and rethought pivot.

    Best Production Light: Zebralight SC62 Mk. II, 1100 lumens….

    Best Custom Light: no clue

    Best Pack: no clue

    Best Pen: one off custom Matthew Martin slim clicky. Full cf body, slightly longer to accept Parker refills instead of Fisher refills.

    Best Multitool: Tobin Smith Lama tool. I’m biased, I helped design it.

    Best Accessory: Edge Observer Lanyard Beads. He made me want to put beads on CERTAIN knives.

    Best EDC-related Crowd Funded Project: no clue

    Best Website/YouTube/Podcast/Instagram: 555 Gear. The only Youtube person out there where, when I’m done watching a video, I feel like I learned something,

    Community Leader: Andrew Gene, I’m sure he would deny being a community leader but between anchoring GGL and putting out some of the best Youtube and Instagram knife related content out there, he’s the clear winner.

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  3. This is tough, and I almost always agree with your reviews. However, I am surprised the Prometheus lights don't get a nomination for either production or custom lights (not totally sure where they should fall). They have to be some of the best looking and well built lights out there. While I don't disagree with your pen selection, the Shaker is fantastic, but as near full-time fountain pen user I think they can be a great EDC. They don't fly well, but other than that it is just learning their idiosyncrasies. It is hard to argue your other selections though, you have convinced me to finally get over myself and pick up an L10C. As always, keep up the amazing work. I loved reading every line of the gear of the year thread, and understanding everyone's different preferences.

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    Replies
    1. Prometheus won the categories it was eligible in last year.

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. Just FYI, the L3 lights have received some very concerning reviews.

    http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/showthread.php?391357-L3-Illumination-L10C-Nichia-219-Breaking-Easily

    http://budgetlightforum.com/node/32424

    I hope these are flukes, but it's hard to rely on something getting real world reviews like that. My Peak Eiger that you recommended has been flawless and has great reviews.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the info. The unit I have had been great, thus far. The second review seems pretty positive. I'll watch mine closely.

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  7. I'll enter a ballot, even though some of this stuff I have no clue about.

    Overall Product of the Year: I'm going with the CRKT Hi Jinx. It's just such a dramatic departure for CRKT and for "overall of the year" I'd go with "thing I wanted most" - awesome. the VW Phaeton of knives if you will.
    Company of the Year: KAI.
    Best Value: Spyderco Manix2 LW S110V - I just can't believe you can get this perfect of an edc knife for around $110 shipped. It's crazy. That doesn't account for needing to get a knife sharpener that can actually do anything to it though.
    Most Innovative Tool: innovative TOOL, hmm. I would say the newest generation of MultiTasker multitools? Or the lineup of Leatherman OPMT's.

    Best Production Knife: Probably the ZT 0454, Production is a rough term.

    Best Custom Knife: AdV Midtech Butcher. Want so hard.

    Best Production Light: Fenix PD35 2014 Edition. Love mine.
    Best Custom Light: no clue

    Best Pack: dunno

    Best Pen: Do the Fellhoelter TiBolts count?

    Best Multitool: Leatherman Charge TTi
    Best Accessory: Still the Spyderco Sharpmaker.

    Best EDC-related Crowd Funded Project: no idea

    Best Website/YouTube/Podcast/Instagram: assuming we can't nominate EverydayCommentary, I'd go with ApostleP on YouTube, I love his videos.

    Community Leader: Chris from KT.

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  8. I second Nagrom Nniuq's concern re: the L3 Illumination L10C as your choice of "Product of the Year"? I have one of the first gen. L10 219b, 4-mode twisties and it is a fantastic light and true bargain with a superb beam pattern (hotspot as big as a CREE XM-L) with no artifacts, and has even taken a fall from the top of the fridge to a ceramic tile floor w/o damage.

    OTOH, out of two of the online dealers (of which I'm aware) that carry the L3 Illumination line, one has refused to carry the L10C (only the L10 twist switch version) due to QC issues and high failure rate. Too many people on CPF have had the L10C die prematurely with almost no use use, to dismiss it as a fluke.

    As a fan of your site and appreciative of the hard work you put in, both on EDC, and G. Geeks...I don't mean to diminish your efforts or cast stones and fully realize your copy has performed well ...but you might want to do a little more research prior to naming a product with this many issues for the vaunted position of "Prod. of the Year".

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I was aware of some of the complaints beforehand, but it is hard to decipher "internet" complaints from real world complaints. I'll keep an eye on this issue.

      I was not aware however that someone stopped selling the L10C. Can you post a link to the company not selling the L10C?

      Finally, I'll reach out to L3 Illumination. Until I have something go boom on mine I can't really test the durability. I do carry mine a lot and its still working.

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    2. I know, it's hard to eval. interweb bitching and glad to hear yours is still OK...I really wanted buy one but the volume and detail of complaints was convincing enough for me to wait and monitor the status of L3 addressing this issue beforehand.

      I believe the dealer was/is lIllumn (formerly Illumination Supply) @...

      http://www.illumn.com/



      Delete
  9. Tony,
    I enjoy your reviews and thoughtful evaluations. I would suggest next year a category for best revision/upgrades for knives but also for any gear product. You did review the Benchmde 940 that was an upgrade. Some of the Spyderco Sprints also tend to fly under the reviewer radar. Looking forward to your custom SAK review. Thanks for the work and keep it coming. (Any chance of doing some woodworking tool reviews?)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Here we go.

    Part I

    Overall Product:

    Kizer 3404A3
    In a market that’s oversaturated by Ti framelock flippers, the Kizer 3404A3 isn’t just a great value, it’s an incredible knife. The fit and finish on it is amazing, the materials are top-shelf, it has great flipping action, etc. It has all the trappings of a premium Ti framelock flipper, sans a hardened steel insert, but the lock face is excellent as is. Even the pivot screw is great; it looks nice, but unlike a lot of proprietary screws, it actually accepts a simple hex head, and even a wide flathead driver (I can adjust the pivot with my Gerber Shard, for instance). The fact that it’s made by a Chinese company really highlights that you shouldn’t judge a knife by its country of origin.

    Company of the Year

    KAI USA
    Not an original answer, but the best overall, across-the-board performance from any knife company. At the entry level, they introduced caged-bearing flippers in the Nura 3.0/3.5 and Strobe, as well as the Emerson Kershaws. They produced what was essential a flipper version of the S30V Blur in the mid-priced market in the Camber. At the high end, you have the ZT0562 and ZT0620, and at the very top you have the ZT0454 and the gaudy but technically impressive Ruby. While a lot of companies excelled in certain areas, KAI nailed it at every level.

    Best Value

    Native5 LW and Kershaw Nura 3.5
    The Native5 in G-10 was a solid design, but the Native5 Lightweight shed over two ounces and knocked $40 off the price tag, making it incredibly inexpensive for a USA made knife such a premium steel – a welcome change compared to many of Spyderco’s 2014 releases. Also in contention would be the Kershaw Nura 3.0 and 3.5. While the Emerson Kershaws were great, they were pretty much par for the course with the bonus of the wave, whereas the Nuras are visually striking bearing flippers for under $40. I’m partial to the size of the 3.0, but the parrot beak on the handle of the 3.5 really helps improve the grip. The Kizer 3404A3 would be sitting alongside here too, but it already won something.

    Most Innovative Tool

    DPx HIT
    Sheathes almost single-handedly preclude me from ever considering carrying a fixed blade. Having an inbuilt “sheath” on the HIT lets you drop a fixed blade in your pocket without needing to pull it out of your pocket, pull the sheath off, then put the sheath down somewhere while you use it, and then do that in reverse again every time you use it.

    Best Production Knife

    ZT 0454 or Benchmade 940-1
    The ZT 0454 is an incredibly impressive knife, as many of the ballots indicate. With the abundance and consistency of the praise, I’d probably be inclined to agree, based off of what I know about it. That said, I’ve never personally handled one, so barring knives that I haven’t used, I’d probably throw in the Benchmade 940-1. It takes an old but great design and upgrades the materials in a way that doesn’t just make it pretty, but significantly upgrades performance with S90V for the blade steel, and the carbon fiber handles make it feather-light for the amount of blade you get.

    Best Custom Knife

    Brad Zinker Wharncliffe Framelock Flipper
    I don’t really follow the custom scene, but I really like Brad Zinker’s Ti framelock flippers. There are a million of them out there, but he approaches them with a much different philosophy – they’re slender, unadorned, and insanely lightweight. I feel like he’s really taking advantage of titanium as a handle material this way, and the blades are relatively thin and narrow, like traditional knives. The results are knives that not only flip well, but cut and carry well.

    Best Production Light

    Thrunite T10
    I have a T10T, but I’ve gifted a couple of the aluminum version, and it seems to be the same great performance for about half the price – a very, very solid flashlight.

    Best Custom Light

    I have no idea.

    Best Pack

    Right-hand jeans pocket.

    Best Pen

    Zebra F-701
    Cheap, durable, easily available, gets the job done. Can even be tweaked to take Fisher Space Pen refills. Not a 2014 release, but there it is.

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    1. Part II

      Best Multitool

      Spyderco Clipitool w/ Screwdriver/Bottle Opener.
      Basically a Cadet that trades aesthetics, a can opener, and a nail file for a pocket clip and one handed opening. I like the steel a bit better, too, though that’s easily debatable. Ultimately, that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make, and something that’s a viable alternative to a Cadet is pretty impressive.

      Best Accessory

      An old belt with some polishing compound rubbed on it.

      Best EDC-related Crowd Funded Project

      Knife Thursday Coffee
      I just really like the idea of internet ‘tip jars’ for supporting stuff like this.

      Best Website/YouTube/Podcast/Instagram

      Edge Observer
      Edge Observer’s videos are absolutely incredible, especially considering he does them essentially for free.

      Community Leader

      Chris Weinstein
      The Knife Thursday crew does a bunch of community stuff, more than just about anyone else than I can think of. Honorable mention goes to some Tony guy who runs a podcast or something.

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    2. Elliot, you win. Email me and tell me which you prefer--the Kizer or the Bark River.

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  11. As everyone seems to be punting on best bag, allow me to throw in the Tom Bihn Parental Unit. As an about-to-be first-time father, I started looking a few months ago for an acceptable diaper bag, knowing I would otherwise be carrying something my wife picked out from Petunia Pickle Bottom. After a lot of research on EDC Forums, I found several geared towards men, including many models of Maxpedition and other tactical styled bags, but nothing that was both designed to handle diaper gear duty but also re-purposable, without looking like I was about to deploy to the Middle East. Then, right around Thanksgiving, TB released this bag which basically looks like a messenger bag, but has a lot of typical organizational and design touches that make it better than the competition. I'd encourage any man needing to tote around the trappings of a new baby to check it out.

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  12. Happy to even be nominated ;). Thanks for the kind words about the photography & the site in general.

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  13. Best Light: I'm going to agree w/ Tony on the L3 Illumination L10. I've had the twisty for a year now and it's been flawless. Hope the clicky is as good.

    Best Company: Kai, for all the reasons mentioned. Although, the only thing I bought from them was a plain Skyline, which is such a great design. I'll probably get one of the Emerson collabs to try out the wave feature.

    Best Custom Knife: I've been loving the 4" wilderness fixed blade from Matt Lajoie. It's beautiful. Need to post a review somewhere. I also got a Ban Tang small bowie which has an incredible fit and finish.

    Pen: I'll agree w/ Tony again on the TT Shaker and Mover. I got the Shaker and love it, although sometimes I wish it was slimmer.

    Bag: Mismo MS Satchel. Such an intelligent design. Great fabric too. My wife has one of their large totes and has used it every day for the past year but it looks almost new. Tony if you haven't seen Mismo bags, you might check them out. Expensive but elegant, durable, and well thought-out.

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  14. Overall Product: Northwoods Knives Indian River Jack
    I should preface this by saying that I very strongly agree with Andrew that accessibility is one of the most important aspects of design. I also believe it's one of the most difficult things for a manufacturer to do. While ZT's 0454 was no doubt a stunning knife and certainly pushed the envelope of design and manufacturing, I am less impressed by that kind of blank-check knife as I am by the Northwoods Indian River Jack or Kizer KI3404-3.

    With that having been said, I would nominate the Northwoods Indian River Jack as the overall product of the year. It's an update to an existing design, but what an update. I love that they married one of the more established folding knife designs with a 21st Century high performing steel. Plus, the fit and finish is just about flawless. Of course, they also managed to do this at a price point that is a fraction of what it could be. It's a fantastic achievement.


    Company: KAI USA
    Not exactly bucking the trend with this nomination, but it is extremely hard to argue against what KAI was able to do--at all price points--this year. They seem to be seriously flexing their muscles and taking advantage of their manufacturing abilities by doing more than just creating Walmart specials (but thank you Walmart specials for funding everything else, as we learned from Thomas).

    I would also put CRKT as a runner up here. While they certainly didn't do as much as KAI, I think their progression over the last several years from near-Gerber quality to the Hi Jinx this year is astonishing. This is in addition to their other quality, well-designed knives like the Swindle, Eraser, Drifer, Eros, and Ripple. It's great to see them constantly improving, and only means good things to come for us knife enthusiasts.


    Best Value: Kizer KI3404-3
    I believe this represents a significant milestone in the knife industry, as Anthony has mentioned in several AllOutdoor articles. We are starting to see first class knives coming from China (both the numerous Kizer offerings as well as Reate). What Kizer did here was impressive: while the knife doesn't break any new ground in terms of design, it's solidly built with great fit and finish and impressive manufacturing (contoured Ti handles? Yes, please). Of course, the most impressive part of the design is the price point. Like the Northwoods IRJ above, this knife is literally a fraction of the cost of any competitor using similar materials and features.

    I'd also say a runner up in this category is the Kershaw Nura. The Kershaw/Emersons are nicely designed knives, but they aren't anything new for Kershaw. To be sure, their quality exceeds their price, but they're essentially just another collaboration between a great designer and KAI. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not exactly new. Personally, I am more impressed by the Nura: it has an interesting design plus a bearing pivot, and is only ~$30. Thank you very much, KAI.


    Most Innovative: Leatherman Leap
    I agree with Anthony, the Leap pretty much has to win most innovative because it really opens up a whole new market segment that was until now almost completely overlooked. Leatherman did a great job designing the Leap for small hands and adding features that will make parents less hesitant to buy one for their children. I hope we see Leatherman and other manufacturers continue to make tools designed for kids.

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    1. II

      Best Production Knife: Spyderco Manix 2 LW
      Similar to the Northwoods, this is an iterative update to an existing design. What makes the Manix 2 LW unique is of course the choice of steel. Spyderco was somehow able to add one of the best steels on the market to one of their best designs, and did so while hardly increasing the price at all. This is a perfect example of design accessibility. Not only did they contend with the increased material cost of the S110V, but also the heat treat and increased tooling costs of a much harder steel. I have no idea how Spyderco did it, but the Manix 2 LW is in a class of its own for us steel junkies.


      Best Custom Knife: Ver Steeg Imp
      I admit to having little experience with custom knives. However, the custom knife that I am most impressed by is Kyle's Imp. I love the design and the size, and I especially love the price. Of course, you can't mention Kyle's knives without also mentioning the amazing handle design. They're stupidly comfortable, and make you wonder why so few others are able to do the same (then you realize that not many knife designers are hand surgeons). The only problem with this knife is the fact that Kyle isn't making them any more.


      Production Light: L3 Illumination L10C
      This is another amazing example of design accessibility. It has one of the best emitters out there (for color rendition, at least), very well designed modes, a solid user interface, and a shocking, that-must-be-a-typo price. At this price, I think I might buy one for each of my family members and friends, because there's no excuse to have a crappy light anymore.


      Custom Light: MBI Torpedo
      I've been following TheGuyWithNoName's development of the MBI Torpedo for years and now that it's finally here, damn this light is amazing. The user interface is awesome (not surprising given this is the same Guy who gave us the MBI HF-R with its "clock face" UI). The build quality is great, and it's just an extremely cool design. Even though this will eventually be a production light, I think it qualifies as a custom light at this point. If not, I don't really have any experience with other custom lights, so I'll punt on this one.


      Best Pack: Tom Bihn Daylight Backpack
      Just to be a little different, I'll nominate the Tom Bihn Daylight Backpack for best pack. It can't do everything, but what it does, it does extremely well. This is the first ultralight backpack that I've encountered that was actually well designed and had decent organization. At the same time, it's small enough that you can fold it up and put it in a larger carry on so you can still have a small day pack when you land. It has the same materials as the Synapse 19 (and 25), but is half the weight and almost $100 cheaper. Of course, it's not perfect, and sacrifices some of the organization and comfort of the Synapse and other larger backpacks. However, it gets my nomination as this is the first ultralight backpack (that I've seen, at least) which is actually well designed.


      Best Pen: Tactile Turn Mover
      I was amazed by this pen when I got it. It is very similar to my Karas Customs Retrakt, but just does everything better. The machining on the tip vastly improves the grip and the clip design is superb. Add to this the fact that the machining tolerances were so tight when I got it that I literally couldn't find the seam where the two body parts come together, even with my thumbnail. Awesome design. Plus, the vast choices of refills give you a ton of options for what to feed it.

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    2. III

      Best Multitool: Leatherman By the Numbers
      I would nominate the Leatherman By the Numbers line as the best multitools of the year. I think the Spyderco Clipit is a very interesting option, but for me the Leatherman BTN line is more innovative. I love the concept behind these: Leatherman uses customer feedback to come up with multiple designs which are released every year. Then, people vote with their dollars on their favorite and the top few best selling designs will become "evergreen" Leatherman products. Not only are they great tools, but it seems like an awesome way for Leatherman to engage its customers and really explicitly let the customers dictate the designs.

      In fact, we've already seen this concept bear some fruit in the form of the Leatherman Piranha II. This tool was originally designed by PocketToolX before they were bought by Leatherman. Leatherman then made some tweaks and released it under the Leatherman brand. Recently, Leatherman further tweaked the Piranha, most noticeably by incorporating the bit holder from the BTN #4 and the ability to use Leatherman's flat bit drivers.


      Best Accessory: Spyderco Sharpmaker CBN Rods
      Nothing against Andrew, but I'm just not a fan of lanyards and therefore have little use for lanyard beads. As a result, I'm going to nominate the Spyderco Sharpmaker CBN rods as the accessory of the year. I can't think of another accessory (especially not one released in 2014) that has had a bigger impact on my gear than these rods. They're much more aggressive than the standard ceramic rods and as a result reprofiling a blade with super hard steel on the Sharpmaker is no longer the soul-crushing, I-want-to-crawl-into-the-fetal-position proposition that it once was. Granted, Spyderco already had the diamond rods which serve a similar purpose, but from the research I've done the CBN rods do it better.


      Best Crowdfunded Project: Sugar Creek Forge
      Hard to argue against this one. First, it's of course a fantastic cause, creating ways for people in Uganda to improve their lives. Second, it's a great way for people to try out knife making. Literally everybody wins.


      Best Podcast: Gear Geeks Live
      One of my favorite podcasts. The format is great, Andrew's progression from wise sage to hilarious drunken troll is awesome, and the guests are fantastic. Literally couldn't be better (well, aside from releasing one a week. It's not like you guys have anything better to do).

      For me, the runner up would be Knife Journal. Both Jim and Kyle are great personalities and each bring different perspectives and experience. I also like that their focus is on using knives and tools. It's a great counterpoint to many of the other knife blogs and podcasts.


      Community Leader: Anthony Sculimbrene
      Between creating this site and Gear Geeks Live, Anthony is the community leader of the year for me. His clear, methodical scoring system is unique among knife reviewers, and the clear identification of biases and constant effort to remain objective is extremely refreshing.

      Runner up would be Jim Nowka. I really think the knife community is where it is today thanks in large measure to Jim. Plus, I'm pretty sure he's the only podcaster in history to have a confirmed kill on the air. To paraphrase Won Kim's ballot, if Chuck Norris were a podcaster, he'd be Jim.

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  15. You picked some great knives for this. My favorites are definitely the Zero Tolerance blades, they're expensive but very worth it.

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