Saturday, July 23, 2016

DPx HEST Urban Review

If you are even slightly aware of baseball you will know the legend of Mike Trout--wunderkind that showed up, like Athena, fully formed and ready to dominate.  He was worth 10 wins all by himself in his first full season.  He has been worth nothing less than 9 wins since his debut.  He came out of the gate swinging and has never stopped.  In fact, when asked about his son's success, Trout's father told the media that baseball is tough and eventually his son was going to go through an 0-21 streak.  I am not sure if that has happened yet.

The reality is very few things are superb from the get go.  Most of the time product design, like people, takes time.  The original Dragonfly had a very odd shape (it was made prior to Spyderco standardizing the distance between the thumb hole and pivot at 1.1 inches).  The first airplane didn't land, it crashed and it only traveled 120 feet.  You get the idea--Mike Trout is a rarity.  A small stumble out of the gate is the norm.

Here the DPx HEST Urban does so much well, that even with one huge drawback, it is still a well above average blade.  I like this knife a lot.  But that one thing...ugh...what I wouldn't do for something just a tad bit different in the clip department.  I have struggled to think of a knife with a worse clip than the Urban.  And what's more, I know they know there is a problem.  Alas, Trout and Athena are the rarity.

Here is the product page. The sterile version of the Urban costs $281 from Kickstarter directly on the early bird.  There were three other versions all of which were more expensive.  Its not out yet so I don't know what the retail will be. There are no video or written reviews yet.  Here is my review sample:


Twitter Review Summary: A Tale of Two of times: knife; worst of times: clip

Process Feedback

The Urban was the first folder that launched a Kickstarter after Kickstarter changed is policy regarding knives.  About a week later Darriel Caston launched the Kadima.  Both ran WAY over the projected ship date, something that is common on Kickstarter.  DPx did a great job with updates and communications.  They also added extras to the project, in my case a sheath, because of the delay.  Given my prior experience with Kickstarter, even with the delay, I think DPx did a good job here.  The knife, other than the clip, is superb and worth the wait related to the tweaks that were made in the production process.    

Design: 2

The Urban sure is a beautiful looking knife.  Its proportions and lines are just perfect.  I love everything about this knife's size and shape.  I also like that they were mindful of details.  Here is one:


Its not a big deal, and it is probably not strictly necessary, but I really appreciate that DPx went to the trouble of making the lockbar accessible.  There are many knives, many very good knives that don't bother.  In fact, there are ton of touches like this on the Urban, little signs that they know that we are paying attention.  

I am not sold on the multitool functionality here, it just seems forced.  But, fortunately, it generally stays out of your way, never impacting the knife's main task.  The glass breaker that is included and functions as a screw for the pocket clip, was a bit pokey, but they give you a replacement screw that doesn't tempt you to smash windows in the mall parking lot, so I am not going to ding them for that.  In general, I have no idea why companies feel the need to cram a bunch of extra "features" on a knife, but if they are going to try to do that, this is the best result--complete functional invisibility.


The performance ratios are middling, mostly because this is a chunky blade.  The blade:handle is  .77 (2.875 inches/3.75 inches) and the blade:weight is .66 (2.875 inches/4.34 ounces).  These are both a long way from the record, but ratios don't tell the whole tale.  

Fit and Finish: 2

The Urban was subject to some pretty lengthy delays.  It was supposed to come out at the end of January but didn't arrive to the first backers until late April, early May.  DPx claims that they were tweaking the fit and finish.  If this is the result of that delay, I am fine waiting.  The knife is just rock solid.  No blade play in any direction at all.  The knife's handles are all finely finished.  The entire thing looks like a million bucks.  Compared to something like the Bradley Alias, which is a good knife, this feels a step above.  There is the pocket clip issue and an issue with the grind, but other those two things, the whole knife feels wonderful.

Grip: 2

I am not so convinced that the wire stripper/jimping is necessary (it is good as jimping, I am just not sure you need it), but that's because the whole knife fit in the hand so well.  The original HEST that I reviewed was great in the hand and its little brother is no different.


Between the simple handle shape and the nice chamfered edges, the Urban just works. It also helps that this knife isn't MASSIVE.  It's stout, don't get me wrong, but it is not excessively long or wide in the pocket.  

Carry: 2

Thing is, the clip is so wretched that most of the time I just drop the Urban in the pocket and even then it is quite good.  Again, DPx nailed the size and shape here.  The HEST wasn't a huge knife, but it also wasn't small.  This knife fits that sweet spot for me that is occupied by the Mini Grip and other really good EDC-friendly knives.  It is a bit heavy, but not insanely so.

Steel: 2

S30V, you vex me.  On some knives you never take an edge.  You taunt me as I strop you and try to resharpen you on the Sharpmaker.  In other knives you are good citizen--holding an edge, not rusting, and being relatively easy to sharpen.  Perhaps it is because you are getting on in years, something of a middle aged knife steel, and you have experimented with different heat treats for different results.  Either way, here on the Urban, I liked you.  On other knives, we just aren't friends anymore.

Blade Shape: 2

If you are releasing a knife on Kickstarter, a platform open to the world, go with a classic blade shape, something that the mainstream and Internet hipsters will approve of.  Here, DPx did just that.


The sneaky thing is that this blade shape is actually a bit nicer than the typical drop point--it's almost that Mors Kochanski preferred "continuous curve" shape.  There is a lot of belly here and only a smidge of straightaway, but I like it a lot.  

Grind: 1

Three nagging issues that add up, together, to one point off.  First, the actual cutting edge is a little uneven.  Nothing too bad, nothing enough to affect performance, but definitely visible.  Second, because of how the plunge was cut, DPx left some edge unsharpened.  This doesn't effect performance either, but if there is edge to be sharpened, I want it sharp.  And third, there is this:


This isn't so much a plunge line as it is a ramp.  I have never seen this on a knife before and while it doesn't impact performance, it seems like something that should not happen.  Perhaps it is that we have been conditioned to look for crisp sharp plunge lines as a signifier of a high quality knife.  Whatever the reason, this is just jarring to my sensibilities.  It too does not impact performance, but it is is noticeable.  Altogether this stuff is worth a point.  It's all aesthetic stuff, but with so much of this knife done perfectly this trio of grinding gaffes sticks out. 

Deployment Method: 2

Bucking convention sometimes pays off.  In a market saturated with bearing pivot flippers, the Urban's bearing pivot thumb stud is quite different and fun to use.  The detent is perfect and the thumb studs are nice, resulting in an assisted-like feel and speed.  Of all the parts of the Urban that tell me this is a great knife, the deployment is the one that stands out the most.  I really, really like kicking this knife open with just a bump of the thumb stud. 

Oh, and yes, the bottle opener does work perfectly as a rapid deployment method.  Too bad it is 100% stymied by a terrible pocket clip.  In the event that you do get everything working right, it will pop this knife open in less than a second.  And let me cut off some Emerson fanboys at the pass.  Number one, the patent on the Wave is either lapsed or going to lapse very soon, so DPx isn't stealing anything.  Number two, DPx had this feature on their fixed blades a long time ago and basically imported it, unchanged, on to their folders.  It can't work as a Wave feature on a fixed blade and so importing just led to a happy coincidence of function.  

I am not willing to indulge what some on the Internet have posited as the ultimate Emerson fanboy conspiracy theory--that DPx dropped it on a fixed blade first, knowing its functionality on a then-yet-to-be produced folder, so as to insulate themselves from IP issues in the future.  The reality, as I have written here before, is that all of these patents and trademarks by these small companies are pretty useless--only a few in the knife business have the capital to defend them in court.  That doesn't address the moral issues related to IP theft, but I don't think that is what happened here.

Retention Method: 0

And here we have the culprit, the thing that brings the Urban down to earth from a potentially Trout-like debut:


When I got the knife the clip stood off from the handle by about an 1/8".  It was noticeable and obvious.  It was clear that this was not a mistake.  I thought it was an odd design choice, so I took the clip off and bent it back towards the handle to close the gap.  I reinstalled the clip and to my disappointment it was still a little bit off.  I tried the knife in my pocket and I noticed that even with the gap, I couldn't wedge it in.  Try as I might, pushing and pulling, I could not get the knife in my pocket, clipped into place.  Eventually I got it in, but the problem remains.  This clip is awful.  It does not have enough spring to it to allow the clip to flex out.  It also has so much bead blasting on it (and the handle) that sliding it in and out of a pocket, even on material as thin as suit pants, is impossible.  The clip is also a pretty awful shape, with the turned up portion of the clip sticking out way too far.  This is a paint scraper of the first order.  Your houses's door jambs will hate the Urban.

Given how pronounced the gap was and how awful the clip is if the gap is closed, I cannot believe that DPx is unaware of the problem.  The "floating" clip wasn't an accident, it was a compromise necessary to "fix" an otherwise unusable clip.  In the end, this is the worst pocket clip I have ever used.  By a long shot.  But I need to be honest and tell you that while clips are important, I no longer think they are the end all, be all.  A bad clip on a good knife is a shame, not a deal breaker.  And the rest of the Urban is so great, I am not deterred in liking the knife simply because of a wretched clip.  

If I were DPx I would offer a replacement clip with thinner or springier titanium.  You could also polish the clip and handle and that would fix a bit of the problem too.  In the end, if you are making a bead blasted clip and handle, you need to the the tension of the clip JUST right.  It's possible to do this, just look at the Sebenza, but it is not easy.  If it weren't for the clip, this would be one of the best knives on the market and one of the best debuts we have seen in years.  Alas...

Lock: 2

Dead perfect lock up.  Dead perfect.  Here is the engagement:


I can't imagine something better in a framelock.  It snaps into place with authority and it is disengages with ease.  The percent of the tang engaged is just right for me (I hate this silly early lock up fad).  And there is zero blade play in any direction.  They nailed this.

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

As bad as the clip is, the rest of the Urban is awesome.  I really liked carrying and using this knife.  Despite the thick stock and visually messy grind, it was a good cutter.  The thumb studs worked well, and everything had a pleasing size and shape to it.  More importantly, the Urban has the "it factor" that make some knives your first choice if you are staring down at your knife collection trying to figure out what to carry.  All this makes the gaff with the clip more painful.  With a great clip, this would have been a debut, both for DPx and Kickstarter that would have introduced a whole new group of people to knives.  

As it is, DPx, by in large, pulled off the most important new release for knives in ages.  By going through Kickstarter, using a good gimmick of being Made in the USA, and releasing a very nice product, there is a good chance that they have brought new people into the hobby.  Those people might not get the irksome nature of the pocket clip immediately, but once they use and carry the knife for a while they will understand.  If the case wasn't so big I'd consider using it and going clipless. 

The Competition

Overall, this is a very fine first offering, on par with something like the Strider PT and just a smidge behind the Hinderer XM-18 3 inch.  The PT was a below par cutter, but this knife, thanks to a very dished out hollow grind, is actually quite good.  The Hinderer is a more complex piece of machining and has a bit more polished feel with its polished then stonewashed finish.  This knife is a better deploying knife than the Hinderer, so it is a very tight race.  

As between this and the Sebenza, well, I think the community benchmark comes out ahead.  The clip on the Sebenza is an inspired design.  Everything else on the knife is just about perfect too, and so it seems to me that the choice is clear--the Sebenza is a better knife.  But that can't mean that this knife isn't worthwhile.  I think it is.  If we only concerned ourselves with knives BETTER than the Sebenza we'd be left with only talking about the Mnandi and a handful of customs.  Everything else, including quite a few custom makers in the "tactical" genre are just worse knives.  


  1. Hey,
    I've been reading your site for a long time now and this is the first time I own a knife you're reviewing. Yay!
    Just wanted to chime in with my experiences. Just as you said, the clip is awful. I've been trying to make it work by gripping the knife with my middle finger and thumb and using the index finger to pull on the clip away from the knife, which is possible due to the shape of the clip. At first, it was like finger acrobatics but it seems to work better now. I like that the clip holds the knife in place, exactly where you put it.
    The locking mechanism seems to be somewhat of a different thing for me though. I'm always having trouble closing the knife. It's too hard to do one handed, I have to pull the blade a bit further back to push the lock out of the way.
    I also would have liked the blade to be sharper when it arrived. I think you mentioned that too. But that's easily remedied. :-)
    Thanks for your great insights, keep up the awesome work, I'm looking forward to your next reviews!

  2. Just one more question: what do you mean when you say we can use the bottle opener as a rapid deployment method? Can't get that to work...

    1. It works just like an Emerson Wave. Run the spine of the blade along the lip of your pants pocket, as the bottle opener passes, it will latch on to the lip and if you continue pulling, it will open the knife. Google "Emerson Wave" and watch a video.

  3. I'm sure a small Sebenza is a quality product, but for a 25% premium ($280 vs. $350) over the DPX, it should be.

  4. I have a DPx HEAT and have mixed feelings about it for many of the same reasons you mentioned about the Urban. Overall, both seem like great knives but the multi-tool elements are more-or-less unnecessary. The bottle opener, and on the Urban and HEST, the wire stripper jimping, seem like such random tools to have on a survival-themed folding knife–would anyone actually be in need of those tools in a survival situation? The multi-tool features seem more like branding than function.

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  6. Hi Tony,
    Nice review. I too was an early Kickstarter buyer (I have the steril version).

    I agree with virtually everything you wrote. It also clarified that I wasn't crazy —the clip is AWEFUL. I own four Sebenzas, three Hinderers , and a couple Striders, so know there is no excuse for the clip.

    Do you happen to know if there are any plans to make this right, especially with those of us who were there from the beginning on Kickstarter?

    1. None to my knowledge. The clip is pretty awful, so I'd like to see a fix. It would be cheap...

  7. This is from reader Michael, who, for reasons I can't figure out, can't post in the comments section:

    Thanks for the fine review, Tony.

    I admire very much the size, shape, weight and design of the Urban.

    As for the clip, it is all but useless. The clip on my Sterile Urban has so much "air" space that it is unusable with any of my pants or shorts.

    My Urban came with a few other issues in addition to the clip: While the blade opened easily and smoothly, closing it was another matter. It was so hard it wore out my finger.

    When I asked Robert Pelton about this publicly, he was very gracious and promised to personally see that it was fixed.

    But once I returned my Urban and our communications turned private, he was a different person.

    At first, he insisted that the knife was perfect and there was nothing for him to fix.

    When I wouldn't back down, he announced that he was sending me a refund and he would keep my knife.

    I had to tell him in no uncertain terms that this was not his call. I liked the design. I could see myself getting a second Urban. But certainly not if he refused to fix the first. I wanted my knife back -- and I wanted it fixed, as promised.

    Pelton finally relented and agreed to fix everything except the clip; he told me to fix that myself.

    I responded that I would not have asked him to fix the clip if I had been able to do so myself.

    When he returned my Urban, there were obvious signs that it had been adjusted: The lockup was now so early it could not have been any earlier. The knife opened and closed easily and smoothly. It's so easy you can even flick it open with your thumb.

    The downside is that it is now so loose it can -- and does -- open in your pocket, if you're not careful.

    Speaking of which -- for reasons unknown, he simply refused to fix the clip. There were new scratches on it when I got my Urban back. But nothing had been adjusted. When I inquired, Pelton insisted that I had put the scratches on the clip.

    As I noted earlier, I like the design of the Urban very much. But dealing with Pelton is something I wouldn't wish on any consumer.

    1. Thanks for sharing that. The initial gesture by RYP sounded nice, but looks like he still needs some help in the CS department.