Like last year I am going to open this up to everyone for voting, but before I get there, I wanted to post my ballot. I will also post ballots from a few other folks in the gear world. I imagine voting will be open at the end of January (I am still shipping GAW prizes as more winners than average were overseas--5 pound package to Australia is $125...). Here is my ballot (with the usual two caveats--a piece of gear can only win once and it has to be new this year, with a loose definition of new):
Overall Product of the Year
Muyshondt Aeon Mk. III
As I wrote this article our lights flickered as a Nor'Easter blew into town. It was a lot of wind and a lot of heavy snow. So as I gathered my stuff just in case, I opened my embarrassingly well stocked flashlight drawer and picked one light for myself--the Mk. III. If I had to go get wood outside or check the oil tank, there is no light I'd rather have than this absolute diamond. Its pricey on a dollar per lumen basis, but in terms of runtime, output, and ease of use nothing matches it. Its better than the Mk. II and that light was made for me. Enrique had a great year, and this was his crowning achievement. And to put the final exhibit up in favor of this light--I had the prototype in for review in 2015 and it was great. The final version is significantly better. This was the best piece of gear I handled all year.
Other notables: Survive Knives GSO 4.7 (I am boycotting the silly wordmark Survive! Knives, BTW), Olight S1R Baton, Spydero Manix 2 LW in Maxamet
All of these are discussed below, but let me say this--in any other year any of these would have ran away with the crown. Every single one of them is awesome. But this year was incredible in the gear world, probably the best year since the site started.
Survive Knives GSO 4.7 in Cru Forge V
Yes, I know that even now it is still not readily available. And yes, I know that even with a PERFECT score some of the Survive Knives fans were disappointed with the review (seriously, what else could you want?). But whatever the issues, the knife itself (and its sheath) are All Stars. These are winners. This is how you make a knife. And as good as the knife was, the sheath was as good. Throw on an awesome and rarely used steel and you have a winner. Price it the same as an ESEE of equivalent size and you have the Best Value of 2016.
Other notables: Victorniox Pioneer X, Schrade SCH36
It was a close call between ZT and
Olight, but in the end, the spectacular ZT0999 pushed me in favor of the
knife brand. Olight's dominance over the production light EDC market
is probably as great as any one company has had since Surefire's heyday,
but they achieved greatness through iteration, while ZT both iterates
ZT's 2016 line up was strong, diverse
and interesting. They made improvements to stalwart designs--my beloved
ZT0450CFZDP for example--and they released some solid new designs such
as the ZT0909 and the ZT0300. Its hard to beat ZT either in terms of
quality or quantity. They make something for everyone and everything
they make is at least above average.
Other notables: Olight, Muyshondt
Olight makes a great light platform. They iterate on it well. It sells a ton. Simple. Muyshondt, on the other hand, does something completely different each time and each light is a masterpiece. He has clearly moved past the other custom light makers into a new tier--untouchable quality, impeccable design, and multiple lights a year. He is McGizmo with more lights.
Best Production Knife
Spyderco Manix 2 LW in Maxamet
It got in just under the wire and I strongly prefer the Native 5, but it is still not out. Either way the value proposition the Manix 2 LW Maxamet represents is truly remarkable. The only other folder with Maxamet was a $1,000 Triple Uber from ZT. I love the Manix 2 LW platform--it works marvelously well as a large EDC blade. Adding a truly bleeding edge steel to that recipe will only make things better. And pricing it under $200 makes it an easy winner in my mind.
Other notables: ZT0450CFZDP, DPx HEST Urban, and Steelcraft Mini Bodega
The number/alphabet soup blade is probably one of the best EDC knives I have ever seen and a notable improvement on the original. I really, really like this knife. The Urban is important because it represents a new way of knife companies doing business, and it happened to be a decent knife. The Mini Bodega is a new high water mark in machining in a mass produced blade. Each are pretty interesting, but none represent the value the Manix 2 LW in Maxamet is. Value for the win.
Best Production Light
Eons ago I learned about lights on Flashlight Reviews, Quickbeam's old site. There I learned about the Flashlight Design Conundrum: Size, Runtime, Brightness; pick two. And for years this has remained hard to break. No light was near the top of the spectrum in all three categories. Until the S1R. With 400 more lumens than the S10, it is a huge upgrade. And with the battery charging system it is a splendid do-everything kit. The side switch is nice and the UI is outstanding. This is clearly the pinnacle of production EDC lights and it may be the first light to truly break Quickbeam's Design Conundrum
Other notables: Other S1 series lights
I have had them all and its basically a pick-your-poison kind of thing. I think the S1R is the sweetspot in terms of size and performance, but if you want a common cell or massive runtimes the S1 series has you covered.
Best Custom Knife
Jesse Jarosz Apple Jack
Great design, great size and weight, comes with the hallmark Jarosz edge, and is actually not that expensive for a custom knife. Sounds like a winner to me. Keep your two kilobuck Oeser, I'd rather have this gem. I handled one before I gave it away and boy was that hard to do, sort of like turning away Kate Upton when she comes to your college dorm room looking for a random person to chat with, but I did it.
Other notables: Gareth Bull Small Shamwari
Look, this is my list and that is my knife and so I am going to give it some love. And it is hard not too when someone with skill makes something to your EXACT specifications. This is the second time this has happened, the first being the Aeon Mk. II, and both times have left me more than happy with the end result. I don't think it is fair to give this the winning award because I might be a touch biased, but also it is smaller than most people (incorrectly) think they need.
Best Custom Light
Torch Lab BOSS 35
This is the Ferrari La Ferrari of flashlights--a hypercar flashlight. With best in class output, insane emitter options, build quality as good as anything out there and the Triad tailcap, the BOSS 35 is a masterpiece flashlight, justifiably sitting alongside the SPY007 and Haiku in my flashlight drawer. Only its size holds it back from being the perfect all around light. It combined with the Aeon Mk. III gives me a pair of lights that can do just about anything.
Other notables: Sinner and OKLuma
Both have been making lights for a while now, but 2016 saw both of them come into their own. Sinner's new flourishes have been well received and they are really good upgrades to an already great light.
Piuma Fountain Pen
The EDC pen market has been pretty quiet this year, but Brad Dowdy's spotlight on the Piuma has me very excited. It technically won't ship until 2017, but its just too cool to pass up. Its a Fisher Space Pen shape in a fountain pen. That's a yes for me. I loved the Kaweco Sport and this looks to be a nicer pen in the same size. Great for EDC.
Other notables: Baron Fig Squire, Tactile Turn Slider
Both pens have flaws, but both are better than average and quite interesting. I really, really like the look and feel of the Squire, and the Slider was a stellar offering. Either will make you happy.
Prometheus Design Werx SHADO
They did it! They finally turned the corner and released a product that is truly great and is not derivative of Triple Aught Design's stuff. After years of trinkets and bear squeeze bottle bullshit, PDW finally made something amazing and it is a perfect piece of kit to unify their entire product line. Everything they make can be carried or support the SHADO. It took a while, but Patrick Ma did something very difficult--he proved people can have second acts in the gear world.
Other notables: BO Gear Subbie, Mystery Ranch's EDC line
Both of these packs represent something new--a boutique brand producing packs with their trademark features at a price and quantity that make them accessible to normal Joes and Janes. YIPEE! Now if the shipping from Australia wasn't so much. Its like 60% of the price of the pack.
Colored Gerber Shard
I am cheating here. I am trying my darnedest not to award a spinner or a bead. And the Shard is awesome. Good of Gerber to bring it back and make them in a few colors other than black. I like the blue quite a bit. Even now, years later, there is not an OMPT that is clearly superior. Some of the TT Pocket Tools stuff are its equal, but nothing blows it away. And its not shaped like genitals, which is a good thing in this weird part of the market.
Other notables: Not Spinners
Outstanding Contributor to the Community
No one tackled gear with as careful an eye as Nick and no one did it with half as much humor and clear joy. Its hard to review anything and remain positive. But Nick does it and does it well. His focus on taking knives apart is unique and leads to some interesting insights that the rest of us miss. It is one thing to be a collector of gear and a review. Its another thing to be a user and review. And yet another thing to do what Nick does. Good for him and good for all of us.
Other notables: Grayson Parker, Epic Snuggle Bunny
Grayson's output on Blade Reviews has been consistently excellent. Additionally, Auston's approach to videos has been refined and polished to the point of perfection. Its a good sign that the community is healthy that each year we have new people stepping up to make great new content.