I have been a Triple Aught Design fanboy for a long time. Held in the thrall of fullers and clean, rugged design all in muted tones of gray, green, or tan, I have owned a lot of TAD gear and while it was initially all exceedingly high quality, in recent times it has been plauged with inconsistency. My Stealth Hoodie is still amazing, four years on, but all of my TAD pants have long since died ignoble deaths, torn at the knee with use that leaves my regular pants intact. The TAD backpack I have has been something of a challenge. In many ways, I have moved beyond Triple Aught Design, preferring Tom Bihn, Kuhl, and yes, LL Bean. They aren’t as chic or tacticool, but they tend to last longer and be better made. It goes without saying that they are cheaper as Triple Aught Design is really just shorthand for Triple the Price it Aught to Be (yes, yes…”ought” not “aught,” but the joke works better…).
But if there is one thing that could stall my progress in departing Triple Aught Design’s orbit it was a Compact version of the Dauntless. I owned a Fellhoelter custom and it was (and still is to this day) an awesome knife. When the Hinderer version was announced I was a bit crestfallen. My XM-18 was less than a month old and the knives, at least the guts (a.k.a. the Tri-Way pivot and blade steel) were identical. Could I really justify another purchase? As luck would have it a reader had an extra for sale and so I made a deal and had it sent my way. The fact that it was used is staggering. The knife was absolutely minty fresh. This is important, as I will get to in a few paragraphs, but suffice to say, I would have no idea it was used had I picked it up at the Triple Aught Design store itself.
Here is the product page. Thus far there have been three variations: OD Green, Black, and full titanium. The two G10 handled models run $460. The full Ti model is a staggering $675. I’d bet a carbon fiber run is coming some time down the line, given prior Dauntless releases. This knife is technically billed as a midtech but there is no indication in the product literature to support this contention. Perhaps by midtech they mean small batch. That’s fine. Personally, I think “midtech” is to knives what artisanal is to food. This is important because no one less than the great Anthony Bourdain told us the truth: artisanal simply means expensive. As of the writing of this review, the Black G10 model is still in stock. Given how hot Triple Aught Design’s knives are, I would imagine that will change. Here is a really great written review on Blade Forums. Here is a video on the knife by the great EDC Gear and Guns. Here is my review sample (acquired as described above):
Twitter Review Summary: Its a Dauntless. Its Compact. Hinderer made it. Yes, I love it. No, its not perfect.
NOTE: My Dauntless, as I mentioned, came used, but minty fresh. That said, it had a significant pivot issue. I could not get the pivot to lock in place by screwing it shut. Instead, I had to use LocTite, which sort of defeats the purpose of the Tri-Way pivot. In surveying the crowd, it seems there are two other more common complaints. First, a lot of folks complained about a stiff detent. Mine was fine, but it was more than one person, so I will assume this is something of an issue. Second, a few people complained about the blade being off centered. I think this is similar to my pivot issue and so I will credit these complaints as well. All of this is a bit surprising because Hinderer’s fit and finish is usually spot on.
The Dauntless design is a polarizing thing. If your preferences in knives vary from stag to torched stag, this is not a design you will like. If, however, you prefer something distinctly modern without looking like a spare part from a Bay-universe Transformer, then the Dauntless blueprint will appeal to you. Fundamentally it is sound. The blade is nice, the handle is clean but useful. The choil is excellent. And I am glad for the break from flippers with a nice, confident thumbstud.
The aesthetic touches are preferential, but for me they just hit the parts of my brain. I love the fullers. Yes, they have no purpose (and no they are not “blood grooves;” Kyle Ver Steeg and Jim Nowka dispelled this nonsense in a great episode of the Knife Journal Podcast…::looks wistfully out the window::). But they just give the knife a sense of visual cohesion. I also like the drop point here. Its not too droopy, but it works well. The commitment to the choil here is for real, the knife is basically designed around it and it is better for it. I even enjoy the Hinderer touches here, the clip, the screws (but let’s take a step back—a few less screws types would be great).
The performance ratios are average: the b:w is .86 and the b:h is .69. None are outstanding and none are terrible.
Fit and Finish: 0
The pivot was a mess. No amount of tightening could get the screws to engage sufficiently that they did not come undone by themselves. Add to this the fact that the ONE fastener on this entire kife that requires a specialized tool is the pivot screw and you have a perfect recipe for frustration. A lot of knives require a bit of tuning up after purchase, but those knives are not usually $460. Still, once fixed with LocTite, the pivot has been amazing and the rest of the knife was always great. The handles are perfectly rounded off, the fullers are excellent, and the lock up is wonderful. I noted widespread complaints from the IKC above, but the hard detent and centering issues folks have found did not appear in my sample.
That said, a loose pivot and an off centered blade are species of the same genus so I can see how that issue could occur.
Ah, the reason to buy a Dauntless. Few folders are this good in the hand. The two elite knives in terms of grip are, in my opinion, the custom Jarosz M75 and the Strider PT CC. They represent the two ways of making a handle great—one through careful shaping of a simple design (the Tom Krein approach) and the other through a clever blueprint. Both are hard to pull off and here, the Dauntless clearly falls into the blueprint camp.
With an excellent half and half finger choil and a decent index notch, the Dauntless just kills it in the hand. Add to that a nicely rounded over handle and you have a winning formula. Cold Steel take note—you do not need to have shreddy G10 to make it grippy. This level of texturing is plenty.
My only beef with the original Millit made Dauntless was the fact that it was a bit of a porker in terms of carry. There the Compact is nothing like that. It is significantly lighter and, thanks to Hinderer’s always thin designs, much thinner. The wonderful Hinderer bent titanium clip completes the outstanding package.
20CV is one of my three or four favorite steels and an excellent choice, especially if you want to go Made in the USA. As a comp for M390 and CTS-204p, I find it to hold an edge well, resist rust with ease and actually be a bit easier to sharpen than M390 and 204p. I like 20CV a lot and only LC200N is a clear favorite over it for folders.
Blade Shape: 2
There are few knives as beautiful as the Dauntless when it comes to blade shapes. Once, many years ago, while in a graduate level philosophy course at my Jesuit grad school, a visting professor made an off handed comment “And for those philosophers that don’t like Aristotle....” Without thinking or raising my hand, I shouted defensively “What philosophers don’t like Aristotle?” The long dead Greek man must have been happy or at least experienced a brief rush of eudaimonia. While a lot of his ideas of been replaced, Aristotle’s role in the birth of rational thinking makes his a favorite of just about everyone even if we look at his theories of physics the same way we look at crayon drawings by our children. I feel the same way about the Dauntless blade shape. If you like knives and don’t like this blade shape, something is wrong with you. I get that some don’t like the choil, but the blade shape itself is just about as sexy as it gets for knives. This thing is gorgeous.
Hinderer has never been known for slicers, and the Dauntless isn’t one of them but it is sharp and the grinds are perfectly symmetrical from side to side. This is something of a feat because the grind here is subtle but complex. The swedge, the fuller, the choil and the edge are made to look clean and simple. With a less precise grind the transitions between these four things could be a mess and ruin the minimalist effect of the entire knife. Fortunately, that’s not the case. It takes real skill to make the complex look simple.
Deployment Method: 2
Thumb studs are underrated in our world of TFFs. A good thumb stud deployment, like here, is great. No protuberances or shark fins, no need for a wrist snap (thanks to the Tri-Way pivot’s bearing system here), and best of all no issues with a landing strip or flipper tab covered in jimping. I think I defeated the purpose of a Tri-Way pivot by using LocTite, but I am okay with that—tinkering with pivots is not my favorite thing, not even close. This knife snaps open with authority.
Retention Method: 2
On a lot of $460 knives out today you find these gauche, stiff, and ugly sculpted Ti clips. Not only are they an aesthetic assault most of the time, they don’t work. Give me a stamped clip like this any day and I am happy. Hinderer’s clip, like Emerson’s is unchanged for many years and why change what realy works?
The lock is easy to engage and disengage. It has no blade play at all. And there is just enough of the lockbar exposed to snag the fatpad on your thumb for nice disengagement.
Fidget Factor: High
With a whip-like action and a very pleasing handle, the Compact Dauntless should keep all of the ADD flipper folks happy.
Fett Effect: High
Unlike a regular Hinderer, this knife lacks the high polish stonewash finish, opting for a bead blasted blade and lock side. That will make for a very, very nice Fett effect knife. Carrying other knives like this, they evetually turn to a stonewashed finish and I really like the look of an EARNED stonewash.
Hinderers are not good value propositions. This one is no exception. Even without the widespread fit and finish issues, there is not a lot here over the 555-1 Mini Grip that warrants the price. Its a good looking knife and probably harder to find than a normal Hinderer, but $460 is awfully steep. Now that the Sebenza barrier has been trampled on, $460 doesn’t see outrageous, but really this is a $300 knife.
Overall Score: 18 out of 20
This is an unquestionably great knife, considered price-blind. Now that I Loctite’d the bejeezus out of this thing, it is quite good. I love the look of the knife, the grip is stellar, and the build quality is outstanding. This is a less offensively grippy knife than the XM-18 but actually better in the hand. I love the blade shape and the full forward finger choil. In all, this knife absolutely delivered the goods in terms of getting a Compact Dauntless out to more folks. I have no idea why the Ti version is so bonkers expensive. This knife looks great, feels great, and most importantly cuts well. If the fit and finish improves over the various runs, this is a total home run for Triple Aught Design.
Now if they could just make pants that were durable.
As with most Hinderer knives the biggest competitor to the knife is other Hinderer designs. Here the XM-18 3” is pretty darn close. The ZT Hinderers are also pretty close. There are just a ton of knives in this groove—quasi-tactical, G10 and titanium framelocks. A few years ago the Strider PT would have been a competitor and I personally think the Strider PT CC is a better knife in many ways. I also think that a few of the higher end Spydercos are good competition—the Techno 2, for example.