When Spyderco re-re-did their retail on the internet policies and hiked their prices a lot of knives went from great to merely good. The Spyderco Shaman looks like an excellent blade, with a great handle, a great lock, and some classic Golden touches. But with a MAP in Sebenza Territory (plus or minus $30 from $300), its not competitive. For the same price you can get a blow-you-away blade from Reate or WE Knives (see e.g.: Reate Baby Machine).
In this reshuffle one knife did quite well. They announced the price for the FRN Chaparral BEFORE the MAP shuffle but so close to the shuffle that it would he hard to justify changing things around too much. The end result is a knife that is conspiciously value-priced in a line up that is no longer one of the more price competitive in the market. Spydercos are still great knives, they just cost a chunk of change more. Except this knife.
With that simple, weird quirk the Spyderco Chaparral in FRN instantly vaults to the head of the Spyderco class and, frankly, the head of the production knife market. World class ergos, great materials, and value make the Chaparral in FRN one of the best blades you can buy. Its only real competition right now is the exceptionally good Massdrop x Ferrum Forge Gent.
Here is the product page. Here is a review of the Chaparral in FRN. Here is a video review of the knife. As you are probably aware, this is part of a series of gentleman’s folders from Spyderco. There are Chaparrals in carbon fiber, Raffir Noble, triangle-patterned titanium, stepped titanium, and blued stepped titanium (if I were to add one to the line, I’d love to see a polished Micarta Chap, maybe Westinghouse Micarta?). Here is the review sample (given to me as a gift):
Every inch and ounce of the Chaparral in FRN is maximized. The knife is not in the ultralight category, clocking in at 2.5 ounces, thanks to full steel liners, but they are nested liners giving the blade a super thin profile. The blade seems to barely square into the handle. But the glory of the FRN Chap is not just spec cramming.
The Chap also sports a wisely chosen set of features. The blade, 2.75 inches, is clearly under the 3 inch mark, and the knife avoids the pointy parts of the Dragonfly design. Its also not tremendously tall in the pocket, a common sin among Spydercos. There is a good half-and-half choil and the knife sports the simplest and best clip on the market—the stiff version of the Spyderco wire clip. And, like a few smartly designed knives here recently, the Chap is thin in the pocket and insanely thinnly ground.
Good choices and mindful design lay next to just right materials. Sure there are more expensive, flashier handle materials than FRN, but for EDC use there is not much better. It is lighter yet tougher than G10, but it is expertly textured here. And the blade steel, CTS-XHP, is a wonderful all-around performer.
The result of all of this is the best EDC, general use knife on the market.
The specs are quite good, especially when you consider that the knife has full steel liners. The blade:handle is the same with all Chaps: .77. The blade:weight is 1.33 compared to the 1.21 on the Raffir Noble version. The difference is because FRN is lighter than Raffir Noble.
Fit and Finish: 2
As perhaps the best exemplar of the skill of Spyderco’s Taichung OEM, the Chaparral series has been marked by superlative build quality and the FRN Chap is no different. It is a bit more rugged than the glass smooth Raffir Noble model, with a heavier lock disengagement pressure and a slower but still smooth deployment. But these are differences not drawbacks and both are decisions well within the realm of acceptable.
All of this leads to a scary thought—what happens if the Taichung OEM decides to make its own knives? Even Golden-produced Spydercos have not been as consistent and as nice. As a consumer, I am always for more competition, but part of me is happy to see this elite manufacturing facility pairing up with the ergonomic masters from Colorado over and over again.
The bi-directional, fish scale grip on the handle is more subtle than some of the FRN texturing Spyderco uses, but it is no less effective. Here is a close up:
The honeycombs work well, the handle’s edging and shape are excellent, and the wire clip stays mostly out of the way (how about a spine riding wire clip?). Overall, you will be hard pressed to find a folder that is as well behaved in the hand and this slim.
It is a thin, light Spyderco with a great clip and a not-too-tall profile. Of course it will carry well. Its worth noting just how good FRN is in the pocket. Not only does it save weight and do good work limiting the pendulum effect of carrying a dense knife in shorts, it also plays well with other pocket inhabitants. I am not all that worried about storing my iPhone in the same pocket as the Chaparral. That’s something I can’t say with the titanium slab handled knives. Oh and it is less expensive too. Remind me again why the IKC dislikes FRN?
Spyderco did an excellent job in designing the Chap series around a good all around, high hardness steel with CTS-XHP. Creely’s steel chart, shown here, does a good job of encapulating why XHP is so good. It is quite hard, something Spyderco used to grind the blade very thin without worry of deformation, and yet it repels corrosion nicely too.
We are living through a period of an embarassment of riches regarding blade steels. There is not much more you could ask for between REX 121, LC200 N, ZDP-189, the M390 family, and XHP. Heck S35VN is basically the new AUS-8 in that it is almost ubiquitous and it is darn good. XHP was a good choice here and is a very good all around steel.
Blade Shape: 2
If someone has a complaint with the leaf-shaped blade I have no idea what it could be. This is an excellent, high-utility blade shape that does everything decently. Well, I don’t know how it does at stabbing because I don’t stab things with my knives, but if you aren’t Bishop from Aliens, you will be fine. Plus, really, as cool as that stunt is, like two little boys playing, it aways ends with someone in pain.
The Chap was one of two knives that got me obsessed with paperthin grinds on modern folders. The FRN Chap is just as thin and oh man is it deliciously awesome. Slicing fruit in food prep tasks is a wonder. Of course this slices and doesn’t pop apples. Cutting cardboard feels like pulled down on a nice zipper. And thanks to the XHP even fire prep is not that worrisome, though if you live in a region with VERY hard wood, I’d opt for something thicker or be extra careful. At this point, I have basically decided that folder blades, like prosciutto, are best when paper thin.
Deployment Method: 2
As a Spyderco you don’t really have to guess how this knife opens, but curiously, this is much stiffer than the opening on the Raffir Noble or CF Chap. I am not sure if that is due to construction methods changing, the materials used, or just a random sample in the production line. Whatever the reason, my Chap opens with a smooth, but slow deployment. You young whipsnappers that need a fidget toy should probably look elsewhere (note: I have the Reate Baby Machine in for review and that ranks VERY highly on the fidget factor scale).
Retention Method: 2
The Spyderco wireclip is the best clip on the market today, especially when rendered in stiffer material like here. The floaty version seen on the Techno was not quite as nice and scratched the crap out of the blade. Here, like the wire clip on the Caly3, we get a more “stay put” version and it is very good.
Like with FRN, using this knife has reminded me that I am not sure exactly why the IKC doesn’t like lockbacks. When done well and rendered with precision they are effective, easy to use, intuitive, and plenty solid. There is zero blade play here and while the spring tension is more than on my Raffir Noble version it is nothing outrageous (see: Cold Steel Espada XL).
Yep, a new bundle of info for you that will be added to the review template. Each datapoint will have a range of three possible “scores”. These will not effect the overall score, but are just other points that don’t fit neatly anywhere else.
Fidget Factor (how much fun is this knife to play with): medium; lockbacks aren’t the best fidget knives, miles from the gold standard that is the balisong or a smooth flipper, but the smooth pivot and the fact that opening and closing a lockback actually makes it perform better is a good thing.
Fett Effect (how well does the knife look with age): n/a; as with most FRN handled knives without coatings, this knife shows almost no age over time. The lock will get smoother, see above, but don’t expect this to have a battleship appearance ever. Personally, I like knives that show a little wear, but this is more a tool than a vanity piece or an IG star.
Value (how much performance do you get for the money): high; I have long hesitated in presenting the value of a knife because I don’t know how much money people have to freely spend on gear, but just comparing the price to performance here is useful. This is one of the best values on the market hands down. Unless you are a box cutter only person, which would be surprising given that you are reading this site, its hard to avoid the conclusion that this is one of the best values on the market circa mid-2018.
Overall Score: 20 out of 20; PERFECT
The only knife that has similar performance AND the exceptional value of the FRN Chap is the Mass Drop x Ferrum Forge Gent. At almost the exact same price, size, and weight, these two knives are perfect competitors for each other. The Chap as the edge in terms of steel (oh so punny), but the Gent kills it in terms of deployment with one of the best flipping actions I have ever seen. The Benchmade Valet, which is the same general size, is also a very good knife, but for no real reason I can guess at, costs $100 more. If the Valet were $100, it would easily rival these two knives. Hey Benchmade, how about an ultralight Valet with the handle material from the Bugout and a $100 price tag?
Let me know what you think of the extra data points in the comments below.