There is a reason there is no sequel to Casablanca or Citizen Kane.
The Spyderco Paramilitary 2 is one of the best designed production or custom knives of the past 20 years. Its too early to tell, but there is a very good chance that it is a knife that is as historically important as something like the Buck 110. Its combination of size, weight, and performance, coupled with a choice of almost any steel (if you are willing to hunt) makes it a modern classic in the truest sense of the word. I am not a fan of big knives by any means, but the PM2 is so good that I don't even care. And while the first few batches were a bit rough around the edges (literally in my case), the later versions, like my Elmax Sprint Run (whoop, whoop for Elmax), was a gleaming example of the form. The PM2 was a big knife that carried like a small knife. It was a knife with a thick blade and thin edge. It has a long cutting edge with impressive control. In many ways, I think the PM2 is the finest knife Spyderco has ever designed and that is saying a lot given how many amazing designs Golden has put out.
Alas, its not-quite sequel, the Para3 (which Spyderco has been explicit about saying it is not a sequel to the PM2, hence the lack of "-military" on the end of the name), is not all that close to the Great One. If the PM2 is the splendid downtown space designed by Frederick Law Olmstead the Para3 is the neighborhood closer to the blighted section of town (how is that for an urban architecture reference?). Its not a block of condemned buildings, but it is a far sight from the park.
As I sit here writing this intro, I am not entirely convinced that the Para3 is better than the Delica. Ben Schwartz and I had a good conversation on one of the episodes of GGL that he was on about how long in the tooth that design is, and yet, in many ways I prefer the Delica to the Para3. And just so I don't have a comment section filled with bile, I will say this up front: the Para3 is a solid knife, well above average. But when your name references the design perfection that is the PM2, you have to be outstanding to even stand in the shadow, so to speak. Its a good knife, just not a great one. And unfortunately, as a Spyderco it shares a product line with a bevy of amazing blades.
Here is the product page. The Para3 costs $125. Here is a written review which offers a well-reasoned and different perspective than mine by the very good gear writer Nick LeFort of Ragged Mountain Knife Works (the Starnettle had me at "Hello..."). Here is a video review by Your Nick Shabazz. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Para3, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:
Here is my review sample:
The whole gimmicky with the PM2 was that it was a big knife that seemed like a small knife. Here, well, we have a medium sized knife that feels like a slightly larger than medium sized knife. I prefer small knives, but if I have to carry a knife with a big blade, I'd strongly prefer one that tries to cheat its size in some way. The Para3 doesn't do that in any way. In a way weird way it is bigger than the PM2. You see the Para3 is a BIG 3 inch knife and the PM2 is a tiny 3.5 inch (or 3.44 inch) knife. The issue for me is this--given the design, other than a place where legal restrictions bar you from carrying the PM2, there is no reason to not opt for the PM2.
The performance ratios are okay. Blade:handle is a mediocre .70 (though the PM2 is also mediocre on this front as the handle is purposely bigger than the blade). The blade:weight is 1. Neither are screamers, but it is nice to see the mathematical beauty of a 1:1 blade:weight. Reminds me of the stunning Koenigsegg 1:1
There is one other big issue--the Compression lock can be a pain, literally. On the PM2 the space on the handle gives you a way to avoid the issue, but here, on the comparatively cramped handle, you can't avoid it. Another related issue is the fact that the handle's small size pushed the clip into your hand, squeezing you up into the lock yet again. That extra bit of space on the PM2 makes the Para3 a problem. And this is not an issue that is just one of comparison to the PM2. Compared to any knife, this issue is a real one. More than anything else, this is the design flaw that drags down the Para3 the most.
Fit and Finish: 2
With the new facility in Golden, the fit and finish on the USA made Spydercos I have handled has improved significantly. Unlike the first PM2 I handled, the Para3 review sample was clean, neat, and very nicely finished. There was no wobble in the grind or rough areas of the handle. The blade was dead-on center and the G10 was textured without being shreddy. The nested liners were also nicely done. This is a very finely made knife and a good sign. For so long the Taichung Spydercos were the best knives the Spider produced. Now its not so clear--Golden is once again making some very fine production knives.
The clip placement is an issue. The Compression lock is an issue. The cramped handle is an issue. This knife is a mess when it comes to grip. Compared to say, the Caly3 with its gentle curves and wonderful clip, the Para3 is a pokey mess.
This is not the most svelte knife in the world, but it is certainly not bad in the pocket. Its actually quite good. The size and shape are good, the pocket clip holds it in place well, and its not overly bulky compared to some knives, ZT's collection of pocket pendulums come to mind. That said, the amount of space in the pocket this knife occupies in almost indistinguishable from that occupied by the PM2, so if you have the choice, why bother with the Para3? I have tried hard to resist dinging this knife for NOT being the PM2, hence the score here, but rationally....the choice seems easy.
The time has come. S30V, without some special consideration, is at the top end of the score of 1. It is, as of 2017, a good, but only slightly above average steel. Don't get me wrong S30V is still a decent steel, but the problem is that in this price range you can pretty readily get S35VN which is just better. It is easier to sharpen and I think it holds an edge a bit better. You can get a S35VN flipper for $35 from LA Police Gear (review sample incoming...). In a world with that knife, a $120 S30V knife, even one made in the US is a little silly. Think of it like this: the Leatherman Charge TTi runs S30V on its blade and it is only $120 and it too is made in the USA. There really is no way to justify the price with the steel, especially in 2017. I would note that Spyderco's S30V is especially good for S30V, but if you can get better steel for less, why not do that?
Blade Shape: 2
Its hard to argue with this blade shape, even in a shortened length. It is, was, and probably always will be an excellent shape.
So here's the thing, this grind is okay. The blade stock is basically the same as the PM2, which is awfully thick, but unlike with the PM2, the Para3 does have the size to get the stock tapered to a slicing thickness. And just so you don't think I am docking points because this knife isn't the PM2, similar sized knives from Spyderco, like the Delica and the Caly3, have thinner stock in recognition of the fact that its probably not possible to shrink steel that thick down to a super slicey edge without some serious work or a non-full flat grind. I know this is heresy, but a hollow grind would have worked wonders here.
Deployment Method: 2
Thumb hole, solid detent, and excellent washers make for a great combination. A bit more handle space or less cramping from handle "features" would make deployment easier, but even with the Compression lock cutout bunched right up on the pocket clip the Spydie hole still works wonders.
Retention Method: 2
I love the spoon clip. I loved to see it in a deep carry model like on the weird Janisch designed balisong, but even in its standard iteration, Spyderco's spoon clip is still one of the best.
I like the Compression lock. I am not a raving fan, but I like it. My big beef with it comes with the placement of the cutout. By design, it has to be on the spine of the knife and that means it will come in contact with your hand. On most Compression lock knives the handle is big enough that it stays out of your way. Even on a knife this size, like the Spyderco Junior, a less crowded handle can work with a Compression lock. Here the handle is more crowded than Time Square on New Years and the result is that the Compression lock just doesn't work all that well with your hand. Its a great lock and even here it is super stable, but given the size and shape of the Para3, another lock would have just been a better choice.
Overall Score: 14 out of 20
There are five evergreen Spyderco knives that are better than this knife in this same size (Caly3, Native 5, Delica, Centofante 3, Efficient). There are a host of knives from other companies that are just better in this size and price range. The Para3 is a good knife, but not a great knife. It suffers heavily from comparison. In a world without the Delica, Caly3, and PM2, this would be a very good knife. But this isn't a world without those things and so, in the end, its not a knife I feel compelled to score highly.
It has its fans for sure, but if you are looking for a good knife in the sweet spot of price and size, this isn't it. It might not even be in the top 10 of choices. Honestly, Spyderco hamstrung this design by making too much like the PM2. If this knife were a liner lock with a hollow ground blade it would be significantly better though less like the PM2. That might mean that it is not named after the PM2, which could cost it sales, but it would be a better knife in that instance.
This knife is all about the competition. In the end, the Para3 really shows you how amazing the knives are in this size and price range right now. 10 years ago this would have been one of the best knives out there. Now, its better than the average knife, but in terms of enthusiast gear you can do better with a dozen other knives. Off the top of my head here are twelve:
1. Any of the many PM2s
2. Any of the many Native 5
3. Any of the many Manix 2s
4. Any of the four Chaparrals
5. Any of the five Sages
6. Cold Steel Mini Recon
8. Boker Mini Kwaiken
9. Kershaw Skyline
10. Benchmade Mini Grip
12. James Brand Folsom