It seemed as if almost every aisle at SHOT Show 2001 had a new competitor to LRI's Photon Micro-Light. Flashlights incorporating Light Emitting Diodes, and in particular, single LED models, were very popular this year. The I-Mac color revolution has also hit the outdoor gear world, bringing an array of translucent and brightly colored knives, flashlights, and other gear. The multi-tool wars continue, albeit at a less feverish pace, but still interesting new developments. As for knives, there was no shortage of new designs and developments, many of them even appealing to the often-overlooked utility knife user.
All prices quoted are manufacturer's suggested list price. Actual street price may vary.
06/11/2001: Click here for the ETS LED Flashlight Review
A host of companies presented new or improved single white and colored LED flashlights, as well as a few larger LED lights as well. LRI's Photon Micro-Light line, which first firmly established this product category, came under intense attack with very aggressive pricing by many. Some claimed performance or construction improvements, though we'll have to wait to see how they do in upcoming testing. We'll touch on the highlights.
The Light Optronics Laserlyte "MiniBrite" ($8) has a sliding switch, so it isn't particularly water resistant. However, it is very easy to operate and a big improvement over momentary switches. A nifty snap-on plastic clip allows it to be clipped to a cap visor for hands free use.
CMG Equipment's "Q4 Mini Task Light" ($16) incorporates a small spring steel swinging "lever" switch that, essentially, replaces your thumb to maintain pressure on the rubber encased momentary switch, thereby keeping the light illuminated. It may not be very sophisticated, but it works. Moreover, it doesn't adversely impact the water-resistance of the light, claimed "waterproof to ten-feet," a nice advantage.
Rainer Opolka of Zweibrüder Light Research from Germany was there demonstrating his assortment of single and triple LED lights--and looking for a U.S. distributor. These tubular aluminum lights come in two sizes, 2.75 and 5.5 inches long by 9/16 diameter. There is an armored push on/push off switch on the barrel, which may be these lights' achilles heel, it is easily switched on under light pressure, as might likely occur in your pocket or purse. Smaller lights use four button batteries; larger lights use a trio of N-cells. The single LED models do not rely solely on the LED's internal reflector, a proprietary reflector similar to a conventional flashlight is used to focus the minimal light that LEDs scatter to the sides. The LED plugs into a socket, allowing easy replacement with one of a different color. Pricing was quoted at approximately $16 to $24, but until and if a U.S. distributor is appointed, it's a mute point. [Note: Advised by reader 11/2001 that Coast Cutlery has beecome their distributor]
Zweibrüder also showed a single red LED light little bigger in diameter than the tiny LED itself. Only 2 3/8 inches overall, the aluminum body is even slimmer, a mere 9mm in diameter. Power comes from what was described as a special very slim battery normally used to illuminate fishing lures. Operation is via a rotary head switch. I'm not sure that this light brings anything substantive to the table and I suspect trying to find replacement batteries would soon relegate it to the trash basket or junk drawer.
All the rest (excepting LRI's) have only a momentary switch, requiring constant pressure to remain lit. That's a serious drawback from our point of view, regardless of any other improvement or advantage they claim to offer. Most claimed that some sort of constant on-off switch was next on their agenda.
Princeton Tec was showing its translucent bodied single LED Pulsar. However, the Pulsar II with a constant on-off switch, as shown in their catalog, was not available. They didn't even have pre-production prototypes for us to play with.
The Emissive Energy "Inova" recesses the LED into the body, claiming superior performance as a result of "the custom magnifying plastics of the polycarbonate shell." Whatever. The body halves snap apart for a quick battery change and they claim it is water resistant. Available in translucent body colors as well as black and in four LED colors. The original black and gray bodied lights are $13, the translucent colors are $15.
ASP introduced the translucent "Mirage," a polycarbonate version of their previous metal-bodied Sapphire LED lights with their proprietary integrated clip. The claim it is "waterproof" and are continuing their "free lifetime replacement guarantee" on the batteries for this $13 LED light.
Meanwhile, David Allen from LRI has hardly been resting on his laurels. Added to the Photon line this year is an ultraviolet (UV) LED, joining the IR and array of white and colored LEDs. However, hunting those scorpions or illuminating blood traces at a crime scene will set you back $46.
LRI's new Photon Micro-Light III incorporates a microchip into the same package size for on-off control and to regulate the intensity and function of the LED. Three light levels are provided (bright, medium and low), as well as three rates of flashing light performance (rapid, medium and slow). Pressing and holding down the rear portion of the switch steps the unit through the different modes, including an auto-off mode. This is designed to prevent run-down of the batteries if inadvertently switched on in your pocket. Pressing the forward portion of the switch instantly restores the light to full brightness when required, no matter what mode it is in.
The use of the digital control eliminates the manual switch that compromised water-resistance, so it will be as water resistant as the improved Photon I introduced last year. That proved pretty darn waterproof in our tests, despite Allen's cautious use of nomenclature.
LRI's new "RAV'N Party Light" is designed to appeal more to the entertainment market, but may have uses as a compact signal device, if LRI's performance claims are to be believed. Swung on a string, the clear refractive lens over the LED produces a vivid and potentially very noticeable ring of multi-hued light that might serve to attract attention. How far its is visible we won't know until we test it, and that will determine if it has any benefit in the wilderness.
Also new from LRI was the pre-production unit of a multi-function light incorporating six LEDs, the "Photon Fusion." Designed to be used as a headlight, flashlight, or table light, the head can be easily moved from the side of the triple AA-cell battery pack to the end. The case and head, however assembled, are water resistant. A large thumb screw allows for easy repositioning. The head moves within its yoke, adjustable through about 230 degrees of movement when positioned on the end. Detents hold it in the selected alignment. The flat bottom is wide enough to provide moderate stability as a table lamp and the tri-angular shaped body is a comfortable size to hold when used as a traditional flashlight.
A rubberized switch on the head incorporates the same chip used on the new Photon III, providing the same seven modes of operation. The six LEDs are arranged asymmetrically. Four wide angle LEDs in a horizontal row provide a moderate degree of area lighting while two narrow angle LEDs, one each above and below, provide more intense spot illumination. The concept is appealing, it'll be interesting to see how well it works in practice. Price is expected to be in the $60 range.
Over at Streamlight, their new "Batonlite" ($50) version of a classic Kubotan incorporates a trio of white LEDs into the end of a 5.5 inch self-defense baton. The tail cap has a momentary switch in the center and also functions as a screw-in lock switch. Both the tail cap and the Lexan lens are o-ring sealed for water resistance. The knurled aluminum baton holds three "N" size alkaline batteries, providing a claimed "12+" hours of illumination. The difference between a single LED and the three LEDs, powered by 4.5 volts, is dramatic, there's plenty of light for most close-up tasks. A swiveling key ring collar surrounds the end of the tail cap.
It makes a lot of sense to allow this popular self-defense weapon to serve double purpose as a reliable LED flashlight, where it'll get a whole lot more use on a daily basis. While they are aiming this primarily at their law enforcement customers, next they need to come out with bright, anodized colors for civilian consumers.
Tektite showed off an upgraded prototype version of their Expedition, doubling the LEDs from 7 to 14 for a significant increase in brightness. A commensurate reduction in run time still leaves an impressive claim of 20 hours at full brightness and another 30 at reduced levels from the triple C-celled flashlight (7.75 in. x 1.9 in. dia.). Anticipated price is $120. It's got a double O-ring seal on the polycarbonate lens, wrist strap guides and a superb wrist lanyard. The light is rated waterproof to 1,000 feet. Its sibling was top rated in our LED test, so this one has great genes.
Leatherman Tool Group's venerable Super Tool is getting a much-needed makeover into the "Super Tool 200" ($80). A few critical upgrades should give Leatherman's heaviest duty tool a new lease on life. Taking a cue from last year's upgrade of the PST II, transforming it into the Pulse, they have added the same rounded handle edges and lock releases to the Super Tool. The new Super Tool is just slightly wider as a result, but not so much as to be cumbersome. The thumb-operated lock releases are easy to activate once you get used to them. The only other significant change, which we applaud, is a change to a sheepsfoot serrated blade, replacing the former drop point.
I'm pretty sure I'm not the only guy who gets a load of grief from their distaff half when it's time to get dressed up for some reason. And, I'll have to agree, that pouch hanging on the belt is hardly very sophisticated looking with my suit and tie, or even a nice pair of slacks and shirt. Up until now, there's not been a true pocket size multi-purpose tool that provided a reasonable substitute for my full-sized tool when occasion demands a bit dressier dress. But, I find a pair of pliers too useful to leave home without them and the mini-tool versions to date have been just too wimpy. The alternative is a combination of tools, which isn't the elegant solution I'd prefer.
Now, from Leatherman comes their "Juice" line of pocket tools. Think of them as Leatherman's interpretation of the traditional Swiss Army style pocketknife. There are five brightly colored tools with various combinations of blades and implements added to a core assortment (see comparison chart) that includes Leatherman's thinnest set of pliers/wire cutters ever, only 5mm thick. Still, large enough to be functional for many daily uses in a less demanding environment around the office or out on the town. Each color is associated with a selected tool, you can't mix and match, unfortunately, at least not now. (click to see details all five Juice tools)
At 3.25 inches long and 1.2 inches at the widest center cross-section, tapering to both ends, they are sized right for pocket carry. Thickness varies with the selection of implements, from 0.5 to 0.78 inch. There is actually a .040 inch difference in thickness between the handle pairs except on the kf4 model. Leatherman explained they chose to minimize size and weight rather than adding spacers to even things out. I didn't notice this difference while handling the tools.
The functional central portions of the tools are stainless for strength, with cut-outs for lighter weight, while the outer handles (scales?) are anodized aluminum. The pliers open in traditional Leatherman fashion. Major tools and the blades open from the exterior while the tool is closed. The central core of three flat and one Phillips screwdriver blades open from the interior. A nicely sized lanyard ring also rotates out from inside.
The standard blade is a plain edge drop point. Needle nose pliers incorporate a wire cutter and Leatherman's "hard wire" cutter. The corkscrew and bottle opener/corkscrew lever are similar to the excellent ones on the Flair. Other added options on the various tools include a diamond file, saw, serrated sheepsfoot blade, scissors, and an awl (still with a dull tip unfortunately, but they have finally added a sewing eye).
The scissors, on the S2, CS4 and XE6 models, are the largest yet from Leatherman with one-inch long scissor blades. A new style lever spring seems robust enough to take plenty of abuse. A ramped surface upon which the spring lever rides is designed to ensure that the edges are held tight when cutting for better performance. I was also told that the scissor blades themselves are machined to shape, not bent, for added strength and cutting performance.
Pocket sized doesn't necessarily mean a smaller price, but they fall into line with the existing pricing structure we've become accustomed to. Prices (MSRP) are as follows: Juice s2, c2: $60; Juice cs4, kf4: $76; Juice xe6: $94.
Over at Bear Cutlery they have introduced some changes to their Bear Jaws line of multi-purpose tools. Of most significant note, both the Bear Jaws and Super Bear Jaws now come with lever operated lock releases. Designed as an add-on to the existing tool line, in much the same manner as Leatherm,an has done with the Pulse and this year's Super Tool 2000, the lever raises the integral lock that is part of the metal handle to release the tool, so you don't have to partly pen another tool to effect the release. Unfotunatley, the implementation isn't nearly as elegant, nor as effective, as Leatherman's.
Playing with the Bear Jaws, reportedly a production unit, I was virtually unable to operate the release. Ultimately, the pressure required was painful and left a deep indentation in my thumb for some time. The levers also stick out quite a ways from the handles, making for what seems to be an unwieldy package. We'll have a better idea if this is a real issue, or if it just looks bad, when we test the tools.
Bear is also offering the Mini Bear Jaws and Bear Jaws with powder-coated colored handles in red, blue, green, black and gray, as well as the natural polished stainless.
Bear also introduced their "Pocket Tool," which looks like not much more than a single multi-purpose tool handle with implements at both ends. Most of us would normally call such a tool a multi-function pocket knife, but it's not nearly as nicely finished as most such knives, though at $27, I suppose we can cut it some slack. It is fitted with a clip point plain edge blade, a saw, awl, two flat and one Phillips screwdriver. Does seem a little ironic, given that Bear is now owned by Swiss Army Brands, distributor of Victorinox Swiss Army Knives in North America. But, different strokes and all that, in some places you just can't sell an SAK and we were told that reaction from Bear's dealers was positive, so what do we know?
Kershaw Knives introduced a Tool Adapter ($25) for their Multi-Tool that allows use of the usual 1/4-inch hex bits. The 3.38-inch adapter is designed to be held securely by the Multi-Tool's lock-jaw pliers. Three pairs of flat surfaces on the body allow it to be clamped in three positions; straight, 45 degrees and 90 degrees. The tool adapter comes with a new sheath for the Multi-Tool that holds the adapter, which itself is held in a plastic holder that also stores the six included bits. The Multi-Tool is also available with the Tool Adapter and new sheath for $119.
Over at Spyderco we were told that production of their much-talked-about and coveted "SpydeRench" (See Shot Show 1999 report) is still lagging far behind demand. So far behind, in fact, that they have stopped taking orders until the situation improves. The plan is to outsource production in the U.S. (as they do with many of their knives which are made in Japan) to increase production, but getting the quality they demand has turned out to be much more difficult than expected. So, patience is the byword if you want one of these tools.
Production of Gerber's Multi-Plier 800 "Legend" (see Shot Show 2000 report), which was slightly delayed, has now caught up with demand and we finally have a sample incorporating the latest improvements. Look for a report in the near future.
Gerber also introduced the "Fisherman " version of their Model 600 Multi-Plier. While the thin fisherman's needle nose pliers are a significant detriment for survival use, thus relegating the tool to the "not interested" category, one feature did capture our attention. This was the integration of the carbide wire cutter inserts used in the Model 800 into their traditional Multi-Plier design. No word if we can expect this to feature to be added across the line, but if it works as well as they claim, we'd hope they would.
I don't know if there were more new and improved knives introduced at SHOT Show this year than ever before, but it sure seemed like it. The following represents only the tip of the iceberg since many were not particularly appropriate for general survival use. No doubt I managed to miss a few and I've also included a few others that I simply found interesting for one reason or another.
Benchmade is making the move from round to oval; holes that is. Both the AFCK II and Mini AFCK II (Models 804 and 814, $120 and $100 base, respectively), as well as the Ascent II and Mini-Ascent II (Models 834 and 824, $65 and $55 base, respectively), now have oval shaped opening holes instead of the original round (Spyderco style) hole. I have to say that my initial impression is that, as claimed, the oval hole does seem to work better. Look at the end of your thumb and what you see isn't round, it's oval. Makes a great deal of sense.
While the Ascent II Utility and Mini-Ascent II Utility (Models 831 and 821, $55 and $50, respectively), kept their thumb-stud openers, blade shape was redesigned to provide a ribbed thumb perch and a deeper, and thus more robust, blade, both changes for the better. Not so good, in my opinion, was the addition of false edge on the spine extending back approximately 75% of its length. While admittedly "sexier" looking, we prefer the full thickness spine to pound upon when necessary in the field. However, practical is a hard sell.
The new Rescue Stryker (Model 914, $115) adds a modified sheepsfoot safety blade of GIN-1 steel to the Allen Elishewitz design. It's available fully or partially serrated and is equipped with the same thumb disc opener and thumb ramp as on the original. Stainless liners and liner lock and G-10 scales with the Stryker's ergonomics round out the features. An automatic version is also offered for those who can legally carry (Model 9110, $180).
Benchmade was also showing the prototype of a new Mel Pardue design, the Model 550. This knife brings the Axis Lock down to the moderate price range with an estimated price of about $95-$100. Using the Axis Lock cartridge first used in Pardue's Model 720, this time it's inserted into a Zytel handle, significantly lowering costs over aluminum or G-10. The 3.5 inch modified drop point blade has the new oval thumbhole. Blade material in the prototype was GIN-1 steel, though the production material decidion was not yet finalized. The clip is ambidextrous.
The handle is well checkered and the top and bottom of both the fore and aft ends are ridged. In addition, both the top and bottom of the steel Axis Lock cartridge are machined with ridges, as Benchmade has done with the liners on other knives such as the original Model 705 Axis Lock, all to provide a better grip. With the Zytel handle this is especially important and it seems to have been a successful effort, it felt good in the hand.
Benchmade also introduced a new fixed blade knife aimed at the river guide and rescue community. The Model 100 R&R ($80) features a 3.24-inch GIN-1 stainless steel bade with a modified sheepsfoot shape, having a bit more point and depth than a traditional sheepsfoot. The GIN-1 steel is a bit more corrosion resistant than AST-34 or 154 CM without a huge loss in performance, so it's probably a good choice for this use. There is a full tang with a lanyard hole at the end and G10 scales. Think of it as a somewhat pregnant Nimravus.
Both the new R&R and both Nimravus models feature new Kydex sheaths with a "thumb-toggle lock." In the locked position, the eccentric body of the lock wedges against the handle. This allows secure carry, even in the upside down position. A quick flip of the thumb releases the knife. The thumb lock shown is not the final version which will have a more rounded toggle portion.
Benchmade has also introduced a new coating this year, calling it "BC1," a boron carbide ceramic coating. The charcoal colored coating is claimed to be extremely tough and abrasion resistant. So far it's only available on a three new smaller knives, including the Model 770 Axis Lock by Warren Osborne, which I was quite taken with ($180 with BC1 coating, $170 without). Machined carbon fiber scales and a patterned stainless backspacer add a touch of class to this small (2.8 inch blade) knife with a practical drop point blade. The new coating also graces a fancy new Allen Elishewitz design, the Model 690 (($180 with BC1 coating, $170 without) featuring carbon fiber and rosewood scales, blue anodized titanium liners, and a 3.25-inch blade.
By the way, those of you who are fond of the Miltec-1 lubricant will find it much easier to locate now that Benchmade is using it on all their knives. Benchmade is now distributing it, so look for it at your Benchmade dealer soon. And, for those who always dispair of having the right Torx bit handy to adjust or tear down your Benchmade knife, they've got a pocket tool kit for you as well ($15).
Boker added "rust and corrosion proof" T15 T.N stainless steel blades to their Gemini line of one-handed opening knives. Claiming that the knives made from this steel are truly corrosion and rust proof, they are marketing them as perfect for those operating in wet and corrosive environments. Two versions are even appropriately named "Skipper" and "Angler," (both $83) with plain and partially serrated 3 3/8 in. blade, respectively.
Reportedly sourced from the surgical instrument industry, the X15 T.N steel is also claimed to hold an edge as well as ATS-34 or 440C. They also introduced the "Orca" fixed blade dive knife using the same steel, but with black titanium coating. Best described as a "tactical" dive knife, it has a short 3 3/8 inch fixed straight clip point blade, 50/50 serrated, and with a chopping edge on the spine. At $230, it had better perform exceptionally. We're looking forward to testing the claims.
Buck Knives has a slew of new products, a few of which were of interest. The new "Folding Saw" ($18) is pretty typical of the genre. The handled is molded nylon with rubber inserts. It is very contoured with a large "hook" at the aft end for easier gripping on the backstroke. A large lever lock on top locks the ?? in. blade in place. The standard rough-cut wood saw blade is exchangeable with a finer-toothed bone saw ($10).
There was also a new version of the Strider folder ($190), this time with a nice utilitarian 4-inch drop point blade of ATS-34 steel. It is equipped with a right-handed thumb stud, titanium liners and lock, and has G-10 scales. There's a lanyard hole and ridges top and bottom, both fore and aft, for a more secure grip, however the handle has only a very minimal integral guard.
The "Ecco" is a new dual lockback from Buck with a fairly pointy drop point blade and a modified partically serrated sheepsfoot blade, both hollow ground and with thumb hole openers. Two sizes are offered, one with 2.75 inch blades, the other with 2.25 inch blades. The blades are is AUS 6, the handles glass-reinforced Zytel.
Two "Diamondback" fixed blade knives were introduced with 3.25 and 4.25 in. blades ($24 and $28 respectively). The drop point blades are 420HC, the handles Kraton rubber. The molded plastic sheath incorporates a friction lock (dimples) that fit recesses in the handle. The body of the sheath is riveted to nylon webbing incorporating a webbing loop and has a steel D-ring at the top. While better than some previous Buck sheaths, we still weren't particularly impressed. This is an area where many manufacturers cut corners on moderately priced knives and Buck is hardly alone in doing so.
The big news at Camillus was the introduction of the Cuda "Talon" and "Mini-Talon" fixed blade knives ($370 and $220, respectively). These Rob Simonich designed full tang knives with 3.75 and 2.24 flat ground blades, respectively, are equipped with G10 scales and the exposed tang has a lanyard hole in it. There's no guard, but a decent sized integral guard is provided and has ridges machined into the forward portion. Along the top are machined ridges for better thumb purchase. A multi-carry Kydex sheath is included with the larger knife, a Kydex neck sheath with the smaller version.
At those high prices you just know there's more to it than just this. The answer to the high prices is the material. The knives are made of "Talonite," which is similar to Stellite, with which many may be more familiar. Talonite is not really a steel, rather it's an alloy of cobalt, chromium and tungsten along with some other elements. It is non-magnetic (though still conductive) and essentially corrosion proof. While Stellite is generally cast, Talonite is produced using hot rolling and then is age hardened. This reportedly provides even better wear resistance and increased hardness, along with easier machining characteristics, an important consideration. Still, we were told that whereas a grinding belt at Camillus can generally be used for 130 to 150 conventional steel blades, they get only six blades per belt with Talonite. So, combine a much higher initial cost for the material with much higher production costs and you end up with an expensive knife.
The question is, is it worth it? Stellite's reputation for holding an edge is legend, though only a very few custom knifemakers bothered with it because of the expense and the difficulty working with it. As soon as our samples arrive and we are able to put them to the test, we'll let you know just how good they are and whether there's value there.
Last year Camillus brought back the Becker Knife & Tool line of knives, a welcome return for those who favor large, heavy survival blades. This year they introduced the Bush Hog ($100), a short machete with a 14-inch blade of black epoxy coated "0170-6C high carbon steel." The handle is the same molded "Swiss GV-6H" composite used on the rest of the line. A Propex nylon sheath with a plastic liner is included.
The Darrel Ralph designed Cuda "EDC" (for Every Day Carry) liner lock folder from Camillus ($70) is a straightforward utility knife. It is all-stainless with a 420HC blade, available with plain or partially serrated edge, and 420 scales. A thumb stud provides one-hand opening. The handles are skeletonized for lighter weight and there's the customary clip for easy pocket carry.
Big new at Cold Steel is the "Recon 1" folder ($139). Available with a variety of blade shapes; clip, tanto and spear point, and plain or 50/50 serrated with the exception of the spear point. Our favorite was that spear point, of course, though we could do with a plain edge if we had our druthers. Construction is of Zytel scales with stainless steel liners. The four-inch blade is AUS 8A stainless steel with a black Teflon coating. A disk on the spine provides for ambidextrous one-handed opening and there is an ambidextrous clip for point up carry. What caught my eye first, however, is their "Ultra Lock" which looks and functions outwardly like Benchmade's patented Axis Lock.
Instead of acting directly on the aft end of the blade, the ambidextrous locking pin works inside a slot cut into the tang. At least some observers suggested it was a distinction without a difference, but then they said that about SOG's Arc-Lock last year and SOG is still producing it. Cold Steel noted that a patent has been applied for and they don't see it as an issue, that there are fundamental differences between the two locks. They did tell this reporter that as a courtesy they took the step of meeting with Benchmade President Les de Asis at the show's opening. Upon advice of their attorney, Benchmade declined to comment on the matter.
However the legal issues fall out, the outstanding inherent practicality, functionality and strength of this lock style is obviously appreciated in the industry, or others wouldn't be going to such effort to produce the same end result. All are features we noted when we offered the exclusive first review of the Axis Lock, way back when it first came out. It's hard to keep a good idea down, and Cold Steel is just proving that point again, whatever consolation that is to Axis Lock inventors Bill McHenry and Jason Williams.
Cold Steel also introduced a pair of small fixed blade hunters, of Lloyd Pendleton design, named simply the Lloyd Pendleton Hunter and Mini Hunter ($99 and $59, respectively). The Hunter comes with a 3.5 or 3 in., respectively, drop point, hollow ground blade of AUS 8A stainless steel. A Krayton handle provides a sure grip. They come with a sturdy Kydex sheath.
For those who are enamored of Ernest Emerson's CQC series of knives, Emerson Knives has introduced "Mini-" versions of both the CQC-7A and -7B. With a 2.9-inch blade, they are identical in all other respects to their big brothers and priced at $140. The CQC-7B is also now available with Emerson's "wave" deployment feature that opens the knife as it is drawn from the pocket ($170).
Emerson's new "SARK" and "SARK-P" (for Search and Rescue Knife) were initially designed for U.S. Navy personnel after the tragic 1999 crash of a U.S. Marine CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter into the deck of the Navy tanker Pecos. The chopper came in too low and too fast, snagged part of the landing gear in a steel safety net and flipped into the ocean. Seven on board died. Unsuccessful rescue efforts highlighted the shortcomings of current issue knives and resulted in a search for a new and more capable rescue knife. Emerson's knife was eventually selected.
The 3.6 in. curved 154 CM blade is partially serrated and has a blunt, rounded tip on the SARK for safety, with a pointed tip on the SARK-P for those that might prefer that style (not when you come to cut me out of my safety belts, please!). The titanium liners and lock are covered with G-10 scales with a lanyard hole at the butt end. The handle shape is very similar to the Specwar, with its deep integral guard for better grip and safety. The top ramps up to meet the protruding ramped back of the wave deployment notch. Both the ramp and the top of the knife are ribbed for better thumb purchase. An ambidextrous thumb disk allows for conventional one-handed opening. The clip can be positioned for point op or down carry.
Also introduced was a serrated and blunt tipped version of the Perrin designed La Griffe (claw) knife, called the White Water Rescue Knife ($72). Is comes with a satin finish and a Kydex neck sheath.
Gerber presented their new "Gator" fixed blade knives ($64), capitalizing on the popularity of their Gator folders. The handle design is virtually identical to that of the folders, but with Santoprene rubber around a core of glass filled polypropylene instead of molded Krayton used on the folders. Alas, they also copied over the lack of a lanyard hole, which has always been that line's Achilles heel from our perspective. Three blades styles are offered, but it was the Gator XDP with a 4.1 inch drop point that received our attention. The sheath is nothing to write home about. Even with the handle strapped down, it rattled inside the plastic liner for the nylon sheath. Another classic case of cheaping out on the sheath.
The "Spectre" is one of Gerber's new offerings in a tactical folder, but it's equipped with a utility 3.5-inch drop point blade of 154CM, which attracted out attention. Titanium liners and lock and G-10 scales are in keeping with SOP. While there is an ambidextrous thumb stud for one handed opening, the stainless steel clip is fixed. There's a modest integral guard and modest ridged thumb ramp on the top.
New from KA-BAR Knives was their "Impact" series of full tang fixed blades ($86) that includes a nice plain edged spear point design (as well as a tanto and their "Warthog" blade shape). A slot on the butt end serves as a somewhat oversized lanyard hole. The 3.8/8-inch black powder coated 1095 blade has nicely contoured Zytel handles. There is a deep integral guard and thumb ridges on the top of the blade and tang.
An upgraded "D2 Impact Spear Point" was also introduced for $140. Same design, but using D2 steel and green Micarta for the handles. There is no question that the micarta handle feels better in the hand (and look lots better too!) and the D2 steel is definitely preferred. Unfortunately, all these knives come equipped with nylon Eagle sheaths; I'd much prefer Kydex from a practical perspective, but that would likely raise the price some.
There was a trio of new Ken Onion designed folders from Kershaw Knives, all with his Speed-Safe opening mechanism, as well as a traditional thumb stud. The model 1600 "Scallion" and 1620 "Chive" (both $50) are similar in form with modified drop point blades of 420 HC, 2.25 and 2.88 inches respectively. The 1600 has stainless liners and handles, the 1620 a stainless liner lock and polymide scales. There's a moderately deep integral guard, a natural byproduct of the Speed-Safe design. The back of the blade has a slight ramp with thumb ridges and there is a lanyard hole.
For the traditionalists out there who still appreciate the safety of locking blades, Kershaw introduced the Double Cross ($70) and Double Duty ($80). Modeled after traditional double-ended pocketknives with nickel bolsters and wood scales, the central liner locks both blades. The primary straight clip point blade, 2.38 and 2.75 inches, respectively, has a thumb stud for one handed opening. The secondary blade is a 1.88 inch Warncliff on the Double Cross, a 2.63 inch spey on the Double Duty.
Bob Taylor of Round Eye Knife And Tool (R.E.K.A.T.) was showing off their latest wares including the new Savant ($125) with aluminum liners and partial G-10 scales. A deep integral guard helps provide a secure grip. Opening is via a right-hand thumb stud. Blade lock is via R.E.K.A.T.'s strong Rolling Lock. The 3.1-inch blade is ATS-34, available in drop point (yes!), as well as a clip, swept and tanto points. Taylor doesn't include a standard lanyard hole on the knives, unfortunately.
Also shown was the new "Pikuni" ($120), a full tang 3-inch short, straight clip point fixed blade of D-2 steel with carbon fiber handles. An integral guard and two more finger grooves should help maintain a grip. There a thump ramp on the top, appropriately ridged, and a lanyard hole on the butt end. A Kydex sheath is standard.
Schrade took last year's popular limited edition Lake & Walker one-hand opening folder and turned into an affordable production knife ($68). The knife features Lake & Walker's Tough Lock blade lock for the 2.88 in. blade. Scales are Zylite, a combination of Zytel and Kevlar. Liners are stainless and the blade is "Shrade+" stainless steel, whatever the heck that is.
Every once in a while they come up with something that is a real head-scratcher; as in "what were they thinking?" Sometimes we're proven wrong when it becomes a commercial success, despite our misgivings. Perhaps SOG's new "Duo" will prove to be a case in point. One hopes so for their sake.
As SOG aptly notes in their promotional literature, sometimes a product "almost defies description," and the Duo certainly works hard at it. The best I can come up with is a fixed blade knife with an integral sheath and an integrated alternate blade. There's a mouthful!
The handle is translucent plastic, the skeletonized sheath portion, or "safety frame" as they call it, is black Zytel and snaps into place on one side of the 2.75 inch blade. To unsheathe the knife, the safety frame folds back into the handle, fitting into a molded recess, where it snaps into place. To release, you poke a finger through the handle, using a large hole at the butt end, and push. Closed length is seven inches, not exactly compact. There's no lanyard hole on the handle, but you could attach one to the end of the safety frame which has a lanyard hole.
That's not the end of the cute tricks. The blade is double ended, one end being a plain edge drop point, the other end serrated. It is held in the handle via a bolt through the body of the blade. A wide slot in the head allows the both to the turned with a coin or flat bladed screwdriver. Unscrew the bolt, turn the blade around, screw the both back in and you're in business again with a different blade. A short plastic clip is provided on the butt end of the handle. It can be pivoted out to also serve as a hanger or lanyard hole, the large hole in the clip mirroring the large hole in the handle.
All in all, it's sort of nifty how they did it, but the practicality of the Duo escapes me. Of course, that's true of a lot of more conventional knives as well. Perhaps when I get one to test I'll surprise myself.
SOG was also showing a prototype of a BG-42 Field Knife ($89). Based on the tactical X-42 Recondo, the primary difference is the 5.25 inch drop point blade replacing the tanto. The full tang has glass-reinforced Zytel scales and a lanyard hole. Three finger grooves, including an especially deep one for the forefinger serving as an integral guard, help keep the hand where it belongs. A generous choil and ridged thumb ramp allow you to easily choke up on the knife for detailed work. All in all, one of the nicest looking utility knives we've seen from SOG in quite a while.
Laser Products has been busy with both improvements to existing Sure-Fire flashlights and development of new ones. With so much new, I'll just be able to touch on the highlights.
Across the line, all lights now come equipped with waterproof lockout tail caps. No more inadvertently being switched on in your bag or pocket. No more concerns about using it in the marine environment either. All the heads or bodies, except for combat lights, now incorporate some manner of anti-roll features, another welcome improvement. Battery chargers and batteries for the rechargeable lights have dropped in production cost and the savings have been passed along, making them much more affordable.
The smallest Sure-Fire, the single 123A battery powered "E1 Executive" introduced last year is being joined by a larger "E2" model ($85). Same diameter and construction, including a pocket clip, just one battery longer (4.5 inches long, 1 inch head diameter). A 60-lumen bulb powered by a pair of lithium batteries runs for 75 minutes, or nearly the same light output as the original 6P for longer run time, and in a slimmer package. I predict this one will become mighty popular. Available only in gun metal gray or hard anodized, some bright colors would make it an even bigger winner--and make it easier to find.
Sure-Fire has introduced its first flashlights constructed of something other than aluminum. Dubbed "Nitrolon," it's a proprietary high strength "aramid composite polymer." Whatever that really is, it appears to be pretty tough stuff. The "G2 Nitrolon" ($60) is essentially a 6P in composite clothing and works with all that dual battery flashlight's accessories. There's a lot to like about composites, especially in adverse weather conditions and working in some environments. Then there's the 23% lower weight, always welcome, and a 25% lower price compared to the 6P for the same performance. It's available in OD green, black and "emergency" yellow, which would be my choice.
The "8AX Commander" has evolved from the old 8N, incorporating the latest common features with hard anodized finish and a tempered Pyrex lens. The package price ($185) includes the new smart charger with both AC and DC plugs and a pair of rechargeable ni-cad batteries. The Nitrolon "8NX Commander" ($135) is the composite version of the 8AX, saving 2.2 oz. over the aluminum version.
The dual bulb "9AN Commander" ($220) is, likewise, an update of the old. They have replaced the snap-in charger with the battery only charger used in the 8A series lights. Having to exchange batteries isn't quite as convenient, but it's a whole lot less expensive. We would still prefer that the adjustment from low to high beam (20 to 140 lumens) was a little more tactile, with a detent or something.
Sure-Fire's newest king-of-the-hill is their dual bulb rechargeable "10X Dominator" ($350). The lower power bulb gives you 60 lumens for about 3 hours. On high, available by pressing harder on the tail cap button, both bulbs together give "500+" lumens for a 20 minute run time. A 110-lumen alternate low power bulb, something of a misnomer if you ask me, ups the ante even further with a claimed "modest reduction in run time."
The 10X uses two separate, but integrated reflectors for maximum beam control. A tempered Pyrex lens prevents meltdown. The head and body are both constructed of Nitrolon; in OD green only. Weight is a relatively light 18.8 oz. and it's just a hair over nine inches long. It's considerably less of a handful than the typical 3 or 4 cell Maglite or its clones, with lots more power and versatility.
The smart charger is a compact unit into which the 10X fits securely. You place the 10X into the charger and then rotate it a quarter turn to lock it in place. This allows unlimited mounting options, a feature we really like. The body is actually a ni-cad battery module that includes the batteries, switch and the charger interface. The head just threads onto the battery module. Extra modules are $55 and can be charged separately.
We were also shown the prototype of a 19 LED head for the smaller Sure-Fire lights, installed on an M3 Millenium body. The 19 white LEDs make for a super close-in and general work light, plenty of even, wide and diffuse light along with longer battery life. LEDs will not likely soon be able to reach out a touch someone like a high powered incandescent, but they are great for more general-purpose use.
Streamlight introduced the "UltraStinger" ($170). Going the bigger-is-better route, this is a basically the former SuperStinger rechargeable light with a brighter bulb and larger adjustable focus head. It is rated at "up to" 75,000 candlepower for one hour. The light is 11.75 niches long and weighs in at 1.1 lbs. Constructed of aluminum with a polycarbonate lens, it's available only in black. The standard package includes two holder/chargers with both AC and DC connections (as in one for home, one for car or aircraft). You can save $20 or $30 if you only need one charger. No fast charger is available for the UltraStinger. An upgrade kit for the SuperStinger is available ($35).
Streamlight has also developed a new "digital" tail cap ($35) accessory for their larger aluminum rechargeable flashlights (SL-20 and SL-35 series) that incorporates both dimming and flasher functions; the flasher offering a strobe effect. The "Digital Flasher/Dimmer Tailcap" simply replaces the existing tail cap, all you do is screw it on. It is claimed to offer up to 200% increased run time.
Brunton (owned by Silva Group of Sweden) has taken over distribution of the Swedish Optimus (also now owned by Silva Group) stove line in North America. They were showing the new lightweight Nova multi-fuel stove ($140). And, when they say multi-fuel, they appear to really mean it. So, whether it's conventional stove fuels, alcohol, gasoline, kerosene, diesel, aviation gas, and jet fuel, you can use it and, moreover, you don't have to change jets. You can even mix the fuels in the fuel bottle according to Brunton. Be still my beating heart. We're looking forward to testing to see if the claims stand up.
At 15.1 oz. for the stove and pump, plus another 4.2 oz. for the 15.5 fl. oz. (0.6L) bottle (empty, of course), it's also light enough to be appealing, if not quite featherweight. Lots of other neat features make use easier and safer. The fairly wide-spread legs seem to offer a sturdy and stable platform and fold in for compact packing. However, the fuel control is fixed and sticks out from the body 3 inches, making it more awkward to pack than we'd prefer. A fold-out handle adds another 2.5 inches to that in use, for easy control with larger pots and gloved hands. There's a padded packing pouch, but the fuel bottle doesn't fit inside it.
An "it's about @!* time" feature is a quick disconnect fitting for connecting the fuel line to the pump. I was also intrigued by the "Magic" cleaning needle. The included wrench has magnets on one end that are simply passed under the stove to force the cleaning needle up through the jet for quick, safe and painless cleaning, even while cooking.
New this year from Essential Gear is the "Lazer Stik" ($12.50), an LED based replacement for chemical light sticks and a competitor to the Krill Lamp. The LED is powered by a trio of 1.5 volt alkaline button cells which are shrink wrapped together. The light shines up into an internally spiral ridged and slightly tapered clear or translucent colored ABS plastic tube. The ridges serve to capture the light and project it out of the sides of the tube.
Run time is claimed to be 12 hours for the steady-on model, 30 hours for the flashing version. The battery life of the steady-on version is equal to the chem-lights, but much less than the Krill Lamp.
Overall length is 6.25 inches, the base is one-inch in diameter and taper down to about .63 inch. The rotary switch is in the cap, which includes a lanyard attachment and a wrist lanyard. The Lazer Stik is claimed waterproof to 300 ft. and to float with the lighted end up. Colors are white, red, green, blue and yellow.
Essential Gear also showed off upgraded Windmill and Delta Series piezoelectric ignition, windproof and water resistant lighters ($25 and $30, respectively, for polycarbonate bodied models). Improvements include a wider range of flame adjustment for use at higher altitudes up to 12,000 ft. and 15 degrees added opening range for the cap, along with a reinforced pivot point for the cap release on the Windmill. We've used and liked the performance of these lighters in the past, the improvements, especially the improved cap opening range which addresses a problem we've noted previously, are welcome.
Gatco introduced a diamond-coated version of their Tri-Seps pocket sharpener, appropriately call the "Diamond Tri-Seps," ($20). Given how much we like the versatility of the original ceramic Tri-Seps, and given how much we like diamond sharpeners, I suspect this will be a winner.
Over at Diamond Machining Technology (DMT) the new thing was "Dia-Sharp" sharpening stones, which have a continuous diamond surface on a metal backing. Available in three grits, the one that caught my eye was a credit card sized sharpener, only .05 inches thick ($10). It's thinness helps keep the weight of the metal plate down to 1.5 oz. That's equal to about eight or nine actual credit cards. The person showing the new sharpener to me was sharp enough to note that the bright plated backside could serve as an improvised signal mirror, which is true. With some polishing, it would be even better. However, it still not as good as an inexpensive quality signal mirror.
Hammerhead Industries, they of Gear Keeper fame, had one very nice improvement of note, a compact "Quick Connect" for their RT2 Mini Gear Keeper ($20). Much smaller than their other Fastek style plastic connectors, they are much less intrusive on smaller pieces of gear that you might tether. A rotary head also improves functionality. On the equipment side of the connector, either or both a split ring and short lanyard are provided depending upon the package and extras are available separately for $4.
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Publisher and Editor: Doug Ritter
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First Published: January 25, 2001
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