Price Category Overview
Here (Under $100 and Under $500) are the two prior entries in this series.
We now arrive in the territory of enthusiast-only gear. You can, of course, spend more but at that point you are either getting custom stuff or engaging in self-deception by paying more for gear that does less (such as formerly light and nimble designed weighed down by garbage like Mokuti inlays). For $500 a piece your light and knife are quite awesome.
On the light front up to $500 gets you some of the best illumination tools made by man with surprisingly nice form factors, excellent runtimes, insane output, and a host of abilities that are really great additions to the stuff available at lower price brackets. One example is the full video-based UI for the BOSS 35 or its capacity to be upgraded over time with new parts, like the MOFF switch. A lot of these lights allow for drop-ins that take great body tubes and make sure that the emitters remain state of the art. I would love to do more reviews of drop ins, but their complexity, availability, and the fact that they change so often makes it difficult. Some are usually available—those from Malkoff and Overready, for example, but most are onesies and twosies.
In the knife arena you get top notch everything. Steels are great with M390 setting the floor here. Crazy stuff like dendritic coblat-based Terravantium and Magnacut are par for the course. You can even get some knives with Mokuti (aka rainbow trash metal) if that floats your boat. The real upgrade at this price point comes in fit and finish. Some of these knives rival or surpass some custom knives. There is a bit of decision to make here—fancy or not. A lot of brands have followed WE’s lead and now make a ton of their cheaper knives with scaled up materials like mokuti, shred carbon fiber and damascus. As a rule you should avoid these knives. They never perform better and they are more expensive due to relatively cheap man-made materials. I also find all of these materials to be gauche trash. There is not a lot of high end natural materials even at this price point and no, jigged bone doesn’t count as high end. Koa is, unfortunately, beyond what we get. You can find some nice natural materials on Chris Reeve stuff and Arno Bernard stuff. And, in case you are unaware, Koa is what people actually want when they say “Desert Ironwood.”
Light: BOSS 35 (review)
Still the best light on the market all of these years later. It is surprisingly small and stunningly bright at the same time. It has the best body tube ever and a very good beam for a triple. Its not as lush as the beam on, say, the McGizmo Haiku, but stock that light is no where near as bright. The clip is great, the accessories are sweet, and you can upgrade the light in a bunch of different ways. There are a lot of good lights in this price range, but nothing beats the BOSS 35 in every way.
Knife: Chris Reeve Small Sebenza 31 in S45VN (review)
That was predictable. Of course there is a bunch of reasons why it shouldn’t be the Sebenza. Its not a flipper, the thumb studs are painful, there are knives with better steel, its overpriced for what it is, its boring…But here is the truth—even with all those drawbacks the Sebenza still performs insanely well. I REALLY like S45VN. I have brutalized two knives with this steel, my Sebenza and a Para3, and both were perfectly fine afterwards. I also really like the grind on the Sebenza. The grind doesn’t get talked about enough, but it is excellent—a nice, clean, and very scooped out hollow grind. Even with somewhat thick stock, the Sebbie is still slicey. I am also a fan of the “do-it-the-right-way” thumb studs. I know lots of people hate them, but once you have the muscle memory, they function better than any other thumb studs I have used. The lock up is still unique in the knife world and gives you an immediate sense of confidence. Then there is this—unlike a lot of silly bullshit that is out there, this is a knife that will look good (in fact, better) the longer you keep it. There is no dumbass cleaver blade shape or insane compound grind. The knife has been shorn of rainbow trash metal. The plain jane is a gorgeous blade. The inlay versions, other than the micarta versions, include some of the best exotic handle materials in the knife world. I’d take the natural beauty of a burl over rainbow trash metal any day. And guess what? In thirty years, people will still like burls but I am pretty certain rainbow trash metal will have fallen out of favor. The Sebenza is the choice here because it is a knife that embodies a lot of what makes people happy over time—consistency, focus, and reliability. What would you rather have—flash, expensive, and low performance or the quiet confidence of a knife that has been there and done that with aplomb for 30 years? If you read this blog regularly, you know what my choice is.
Good gracious there are a bevy of choices here for both knives and flashlights.
Skip all of the gilded lily version of cheaper lights “upgraded” with titanium body tubes and different machining, unless, of course, you are a fan of aftermarket upgraded Honda Civics. If you have $3,500 rims on a $23,000 car, then these are the only lights you should consider.
If you told me that the correct choice for flashlight was the Muyshondt Aeon, I wouldn’t argue with you. Its incredibly small with a wonderful UI, perfect color rendering, a nice clip, and unsurpassed runtimes. Its not a kilolumen photon howitzer, but it is bright enough. I also love the Laulima Hoku. The 1xAAA format is probably my favorite and this light is really bright, but it is a smidge less capable than the BOSS 35. I also really, really like the McGizmo Haiku, still to this day. This is the apotheosis of lights with a resplendent beam pattern, but the stock configuration isn’t all that bright for the size and price of the light. With my four speed drop in from a reader, it is the best light I own, but alas, the drop in isn’t for sale. I am also not so certain that the Prometheus Lights Delta isn’t the best triple out there. The light engine is solid, the UI is simple, and the light’s body tube is dead sexy. I would also not be upset if I had to pair the Sebenza with an HDS Rotary or the Fraz Labs Tiny Nugget. Both are bulletproof and have super simple UIs. I have a Micro Acadian in for review, but its inability to tailstand and the overly complex UI drops it down a peg among this August company. I’d love to check out a Meton light, but they are pricey. The Reaver Arms Citadel is gorgeous as are a lot of Hanko lights, but I haven’t had one of those either. I love the look of the Barrel Flashlights stuff, but not their availability. Outside the small batch world both the Cloud Defensives and Modlight make very capable looking 1xCR123a format torches. I have yet to have either in for review for reasons I am not sure of yet. Either way, there are about 15 lights in this price bracket that are all worth a look, depending on your needs, your carry, and your aesthetics. There are a bunch of small batch lights out there that look interesting, but run some form of the Anduril UI. For me, that is a deal breaker given the quality of the UIs in this batch of illumination tools. A quick shout out—Surefire, if you want to grab eyeballs in the EDC world re-release the original Titan with an upgraded emitter. I’d buy that in a second.
Knives in this price range are just as competitive. The Tactile Knife Company Rockwall is truly excellent and I fought back and forth for weeks in my head trying to pick between the Sebenza and the Rockwall. In the end I chose the Sebbie because it is what I know will work for 30 years, though this is an impossibly close choice. I also like Hinderers stuff—the small XM-18 and the Half Track specifically. While the XM-18 is a little rough and busy for my tastes, the Half Track was just right. Its a chunky dude, but nothing wrong with that when done well. I just wish Hinderer would release a new run of them. Its been years and there is nothing in their line up in this size range. I’d much rather a new run of Half Track over yet another run of screws or filler tabs. Any of the hard to find TAD production knives were excellent, but now represent a real chase item. I also liked the combination of Hinderer and TAD as my Compact Dauntless still reigns as a favorite. If it were readily available it would best the Sebenza. I don’t think the Liong Mah Field Duty or Lanny v2 are bad choices either. Arno Bernard is making a really beautiful knife called the iMamba and it has some truly spectacular inlays. I’d love to review one but I have a bit of paralysis by analysis over which inlay to get. Urban EDC Supply has been cranking out some special knives recently, taking the place of Massdrop which, apparently, only releases Sailor Moon-themed keycaps and other bullshit. The best of the UEDCS knives is, without question, the truly superb Baby Barlow 2.0. It is in this price range and is truly glorious. Some of the S90V versions of Benchmade classics look good. The Bugout, Mini Bugout, Mini Freek, and 940 are all good decisions. This is a place where the materials upgrade is worth it—they aren’t just pretty versions of basic knives, the S90V adds some real performance to already great designs. Conversely, neither of the uber-Spydercos, the Drunken or the Paysan are worth consideration. The Drunken was a truly, spectacularly awful knife. There is an upscale version of the SpyOpera coming. Some of the S90V Natives look very strong. Maybe that will be worthwhile. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a recent surprise—the Bestech Tonic. This is a really stellar knife. On that same line (I have heard that the OEM is Bestech)—the Terravantium stuff I have had, the Otter and the Otter Flipper are both excellent with unique blade material. One Bestech knife that just missed this write up (it arrives Monday) that looks promising is the Vero Mini Synpase. Its a clean, crisp design. Reate makes a bunch knives in this price range if you are looking for a beautiful tomato squasher. If you want something that cuts, opt for a self-published blade by Reate. Both Pena’s stuff and Nadeau’s stuff is excellent. I like the Apache and Zulu from Pena and the Mirco Evo from Nadeau. There are a bunch of new self-published blades that look interesting, but they are hard to nab for review—the Luft Avant and the TW Price Dawn look especially cool. Wehr released a run of knives, but there is something funny looking about the blade shape to me. Berg Blades (Iron Pup seen here) have clean lines and good materials but carry like kettlebells due to a complete lack of consideration for their weight. Similarly EMPEDC stuff (seen here) is bulky and festooned with unnecessary design elements. Both though are different and not bad, but “not bad” doesn’t stand out in this crowd. The reality is if you don’t like what I have covered here wait 25 minutes and someone else will release a $350 self-published blade.
There are a few things I think may be worth hunting that are OOP. The Burch Blades Secant looked very good, but I am not a tanto fan. The old Graham midtech (remember midtechs? Generic slabby knives galore!) was very good. And then there is the Spyderco Pickle (aka Bombshell). Of all the knives they have released in the past 5 years, this is the one I regret not buying the most. Now you will have to drop a cool $600 to land one on eBay. One last chase knife—the Northwoods Knives Indian River Jack of any kind is worth hunting down. It is the Platonic ideal of traditional knife.
Benchmade Mini Bugout
Benchmade Mini Freek