The Bugout is a very frequently reviewed knife. It is a well-loved knife. It is a knife that has a great deal of secondary market accessories. But the voice of this site is contrarian. There is my love for the Dragonfly and my Para3 review. So yeah, I am not one to follow herd of opinion. But I am not a contrarian for its own sake. I can go along with the herd, if the herd is right. And here, the herd, the part of it that praises the Bugout, is absolutely correct. This is a stellar blade.
In fact, the Bugout is probably the best, general use knife in the Benchmade line up given its price, design, performance, size, and weight. The high end Mini Grip is probably too expensive for mainstream folks. And for them, with a very un-Benchmade-like price of around $110, the Bugout is great. Its not perfect, but it is charming thanks to its featherweight carry. The stubby clip, as funny as it is, is effective and very discrete. But it is the blade shape and the pivot/lock that steal the show here—the best on any Benchmade I have handled.
Here is the product page. Here is a written review of the Bugout. Here is a video review of the Bugout (from the always great ApostleP). There has been two variants of the Bugout, one with a drab handle and a coated blade and another Gold Class version. Blade HQ dropped a third, all black version the day before this got posted. There is a related “tactical” knife called the Bailout. It has the same low weight, neutral handles but swaps in a slightly longer tanto blade with 3V steel. The IKC has reported low HRc values on the Bailout’s steel, but there have been no such complaints about the Bugout. Here is a link where you can purchase the Bugout. Here is my Bugout (purchased with my own money):
Twitter review summary: Benchmade’s best work.
I handed the Bugout to my son and the first thing he noticed was the very large exposed rear tang. Coincidentally, it is the first thing I noticed as well. It drives me bananas. And unlike some rear tangs it might impact performance. I actually collected lint in the rear tang in the month or so I have had the Bugout, so it is not a mere theoretical concern. It didn’t impact lock up, but this is a potential issue that need not exist.
That said, this is far more of a preference thing than an actual problem. For me, the exposed rear tang is just visually repellent. In some of the less egregious offenders, like the Spyderco Centofante III, the exposed rear tang is like the gap between a young Lauren Hutton’s teeth—unusual but incapable of polluting the overall appearance. Here, the rear tang is so large that it is more like a toothless grin from a hockey goalie. I’d love to see a Bugout with a choil where the choil causes the forward guard move back to the point that it covers up the tang. Not only would that make the knife look better it would make it more functional. This is my biggest complaint with the knife and even then, its not that big a deal, about 10% performance and 90% visual (and 100% subjective).
Other than that one gaping issue, the Bugout is a splendid design with features that regular folks and members of the IKC will come to appreciate. The blade is a knock out. The handle is great. The lanyard hole is, ready for this, not an afterthought but integrated into the design. All of this is a very good thing.
The performance ratios are excellent. They are incredible in terms of blade:handle, of course, because the knife is so light. The B:H is .77, which is quite good, and the B:W is a phenomenal 1.8. Yes, those are great ratios, but they still don’t beat the ratio kings from Al Mar. They do, however, portend at greatness.
Fit and Finish: 2
Here is the secret part of the Bugout’s success—this is the best made Benchmade I have ever handled. The blade was dead on center, the handles were free of an stray marks or machining errors, the blade finish was flawless, and the grind was super clean. But the deployment and lock up were otherworldly. As one of the first knives released after Benchmade’s patent on the Axis Lock expired, the Bugout seems to incorporated the advances made by others and the result is an Axis Lock that needs zero tuning, a first for a Benchmade in my experience. This is a compelling argument against patents and for the logic of capitalism.
Over and over again when reviewing knives and thinking about handle shapes, I am reminded of the Christopher Kimball review of a Victorniox kitchen knife in Cooks Illustrated (which is probably one of the two most important influences on this site, the other being early ‘90s EGM). In that piece Kimball carefully explained why the Victorinox’s simple handle was better than all of the handles on much more expensive knives. Without scallops or finger grooves, simple handles let you dictate how to hold the knife, instead of vice versa.
That difference, it seems to me, is the fundamental quality of good design—design that is open to the user. The Bugout’s handle is that principle instantiated in to an EDC folder. Without scallops or transitions, free from finger grooves or hyper grippy textures, the Bugout’s handle is just great. In a pinch grip or reverse grip, held firmly or loosely there is nothing here that messes with how you hold the knife and thus the grip is just ideal. Certainly no folder will ever approach the greatness of a fixed blade handle, given the necessary design restraints in terms of size and a big giant sharp edged channel down the middle of the knife, but with that cavaet I think the Bugout is about as good as it gets in terms of grip on a folder, right up there with two of my all time favorites—the Jarosz M75 and the Strider PT CC. That’s good company.
While it is obvious from the specs that the Bugout will be good in the pocket, what isn’t obvious is just how good it will be. This is an absolutely perfect pocket companion—slim, light, and polite. The short clip is a bit of a concern, larger more muscle-y folks might have issues with it popping out of their pocket, but for most humans, this is not an issue.
S30V is one of those steels that floats back and forth between a score of 2 and a score of 1. It is now a middle aged steel and in this phase of its lifespan heat treat makes a difference. Good S30V, like Buck’s stuff, is absolutely good to go. Lesser treated stuff is chippy and hard to sharpen. Here, we get something closer to Buck’s S30V. Over the month or so of nearly exclusive use, it has been quite good with no chipping. Even when I was doing dirty tasks, like cutting things directly on the ground (nightcrawlers for fishing, if you must know) it did fine. Cutting directly on the ground is never advisable because of the grit and the fact that you don’t know if you will hit a rock, but for the me, the S30V was great. There is a good debate about what HRc to leave the S30V at and I don’t know what the HRc is on my Bugout’s blade, but whatever it is, its good. Definitely a 2.
Blade Shape: 2
When knife guys talk about a “sexy looking knife” 9 times out of 10 they are referring to the blade shape. Every once in a while you’ll get a drop dead gorgeous handle (see e.g. the GEC Toothpick) but most of the time its the sliver of steel that catches the eye. And here, more than anything else, I think its the Bugout’s blade shape, a perfect rendition of the drop point blade, that has spawned the Bugout obsession. People have created aftermarket scales for the knife, which, given its design, all but kills its weight advantage. And they do so because the blade here is just that awesome.
The Bugout’s blade isn’t just pretty, it has good geometry to back it up. This is a thinnish stock to begin with and Benchmade takes it down to a micro edge by the time the blade terminates. It is supremely good at cutting and still durable enough that I didn’t worry about it. Its not quite an elite slicer, just behind the pack of the Perceval, the Chaparral, and the Neutron but it is not that far behind and well above average. This is the best slicer I have owned that was made by the Butterfly.
Axis locks aren’t known for the amazing deployment, but the Bugout probably has changed that. It is actually quite good, swift, even flickable, which, after years of Axis locks, is something I never even thought possible. The combination of good, simple thumbstuds and a pivot that is supremely well made put the Bugout in territory heretofor unexplored by the Butterfly.
Dan, over at Blade Reviews, noted that the short clip tended to pop out of his pocket. But Dan is a Viking-sized person. For the rest of us, the short clip is a bit of a theoretical concern. In practice, with my normal sized thighs, the clip has been perfectly functional. Its matte black finish is also quite discrete.
Lock/Blade Safety: 2
Best rendition of the Axis lock I have ever seen. The Mini Grip and even the limited edition Valet ended up being snug, but it required a bit of tuning. Some of my earlier Axis locks weren’t so capable—no amount of tuning rid the lock of play. The Bugout came out of the box rock solid. It is, of course, easy to engage and easy to disengage. If all Benchmades were like this, there would about 80% less Benchmade bitching on the web.
Fidget Factor: Very High
An Axis lock PLUS a snappy deployment make the Bugout one of the best finger distractors on the market.
Fett Effect: Very Low
Satin finished blades and plastic handles are pretty outstanding at hiding wear. If that is your jam, this is a good thing. If you want a patina’d 1095 traditional look elsewhere.
If this rank were based on Benchmades alone, it would be PEAK value, but as there are other brands on the market, it gets a rank of merely “high.” Good steel, great design, and weight defying capabilities make this a very good buy at $115.
Overall Score: 19 out of 20
If you get something for nothing, it is always a good deal. When you get this much knife for such little weight, it is a great thing. The Bugout proves that Benchmade can raise their game, even (or especially?) as the Axis lock patent falls into public domain. The Bugout should serve as a business school case study for what to do when IP expires. It is also a great study in restrained design. But for the exposed rear tang, this would be a perfect blade.
BONUS—Design Insights from Benchmade
I reached out to Benchmade to see if I could get some insights into how the team behind Bugout arrived at the near-instant classic design. They connected me with Ryan Dickman Industrial Designer of the Bugout. As per standard procedure, Benchmade has not seen the review, though they obviously saw these questions and answers. The Q&A was conducted after the review and score were finished. None of these answers changed the score or text of the review in anyway. Here is our little email Q&A:
1) Were you surprised by the success of the Bugout?
We had quite a bit of research on the outdoor market and knew there would be people excited about a dedicated lightweight outdoor blade. In terms of the name, we know there is a discussion on the idea of what “survival” means to different people and that Bugout would get their attention. The response was very strong with the Bugout, and it’s been really fun to see the excitement around this knife.
2) To what do you attribute that success?
The Bugout hit the sweet-spot with weight, strength, ergonomics, and styling. We spent a lot of time balancing out these attributes, and it paid off.
3) The blade shape is a classic drop point. What other knives were you pulling from to get this one?
With the Bugout, we didn’t initially try to pull from other designs, rather understand its use case, and the outdoor tasks people would use it for. We made it a classic drop point, but the spine of the whole knife has to connect together to form a strong look. This gives a relatively simple design an element of excitement and tension. We wanted a tall grind for slicing, and a no frills very clean blade for pure utility tasks. It’s no secret that this is a relative of the 530, but that knife has more of a spear point, and its heritage is more tactical. We wanted it to clearly separate from that theme and develop a knife purely for the outdoor market.
4) Why the tiny clip?
Mainly to save weight. Also, we wanted the knife to ride low in the pocket for concealability.
5) The knife came in at a very good price. How did you achieve that?
We wanted this knife to be more of an entry level Benchmade and knew, that in some cases, this would be someone’s first exposure to our brand. Product Line Management, Engineering and Manufacturing did a phenomenal job at meeting those parameters. We were still able to use premium materials and put some very nice details in because of that work.
6) Why not go with a standard lanyard design? It was a huge plus for the handle and grip.
We wanted the normally simple or standard details on this knife to be interesting. You can easily run paracord through it for a lanyard, so it’s functional. It also gives the look of lightness, but doesn’t compromise the overall strength and confidence of the handle. You can also see in the handle checkering texture that it changes in size from the front to the back of the knife. On first glance, it looks similar to the Griptilian texture. These details pay homage to the Benchmade brand, but also show an evolution in design.
Bring on the Shootout. The Bugout will face the Para3 and the dark horse Buck 110 Slim Pro in the upcoming piece. As I don’t calculate the scores beforehand, I am just as excited as you are to see who wins.