Stories to Watch in the Gear World 2023

I write this on the eve of SHOT Show, the annual trade show for the outdoor world. It is also the place where many of the big knife companies show off their new designs. Suffice to say that last year was a very down year in the knife world. I have no sales data, but in terms of interest from the enthusiast sphere, 2022 was unquestionably the low ebb in the past decade. Part of this had to do with the samey nature of small batch offerings (play a drinking game for the following: 1) custom maker releases a small batch of production knives; 2) they are made by Reate, Bestech, or QSP; 3) they include multiple handle offerings of which titanium, green micarta, and carbon fiber are three; 4) the steel is M390). It also had to do with the fact that most of the major production brands were pretty boring. CRKT’s Squid II was a legit amazing knife last year and Benchmade continues to release new designs, but Spyderco has all but stopped making knives other than Sprints of old models. KAI has basically fallen off the face of the Earth in terms of enthusiast interest. Finally, Cold Steel and SOG were purchased by GSM reducing them from knife companies to mere brands. There were some bright spots in 2022, but they were like those global light maps over the Empty Quarter. Here some things I am interested in watching in 2023.

How Much More Magnacut?

Magnacut is exceptionally good. It is also the hot new steel and so it is a frequent bulletpoint on a knife’s product sheet. But the use of Magnacut is still pretty limited. I’d love to see some classics with a Magnacut blade. A Dragonfly II with Magnacut would be delightful, though given the Japanese OEM, this is really unlikely. More likely would be a Magnacut PM2 or Para3, and I would be delighted to see it. Some other knives that would be perfect for a Magnacut upgrade: Benchmade Mini Grip, TRM Neutron 2, CRKT M16 (with the Deadbolt lock—what a cool combination), and the Sebenza (yeah I know there was a small KSN sprint run with Magnacut). Seeing some classics with the hottest steel would be great. If I had a magic wand I would do a sprint run of the Brouwer in Magnacut with a wire clip.

What Do Spyderco’s New Releases Look Like?

Spyderco has long been the brand that brought high minded design to the knife world but in the last three years they have been the brand of Palette Swap Ninjas. Smoke, Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Noob Siabot have nothing on Spyderco. Virtually every knife they have made in the past few years have been a variant of the following four things: 1) color of handle; 2) coated or uncoated blade; 3) blade steel; and 4) model. Unfortunately that last category is pretty limited. You basically get 7 choices: Manix 2, Delica, Endura, Shaman, PM2, Para3, and Native. Once in a while you will see a Yojimbo 2 variant or something of the sort, but if you are waiting for something other than those 7 knives you might be waiting for years.

Where does CRKT go from here?

The arena goes dark. The crowd takes a collective intake of breath. And then the audio shatters the silence with a powerful: “Finally….” No its not the Rock. Its CRKT’s effort to make a truly premium blade. The Squid II is an awesome, awesome knife (a full review on this site is coming; I already dropped a review on Gear Junkie, found here). Its been almost a decade since they started going down this path, but this was the first unalloyed success. Picking a successor to the Squid II is not an easy thing. But if they do it correctly, it could indicate that they have finally turned a corner.

How do the Smaller Production Company’s Fair?

TRM, Quiet Carry, Tactile Knife Co., Terrain 365, Urban EDC Supply, Vero Enginnering, and a few others have been producing the vast, vast majority of the new knife designs that have caught enthusiast market’s attention. I know what TRM has coming and, as usual, its pretty impressive. I don’t know what other brands have but I am hopeful. Terrain 365’s aesthetic is pretty outstanding. Quiet Carry’s materials choices are nice. Vero’s design chops are second to none. My guess is that the knife of the year comes from this batch of makers again, but that’s just extending the current trends. I’d love to see a real disruption from either a new brand or a new effort from an existing brand.

Who takes a leap forward?

There are bunch of ultra small makers that have the potential to really change things. These are folks that have one or two designs, but have the potential to really change things. Knafs. Co, EMPEDC, Solaris, American Blade Works, Oz Machine Co., Bridgeport Knives, and a few others could really step up a tier this year if they have another model to sell or increase the offerings related to their one or two models. A Lander in Magnacut would totally be my jam. This is where the next TRM will come from and it is exciting to see who it will be. The companies in this market segment that do their own machining could have an advantage in terms of new designs, but they may also be limited in terms of volume. This is the space I am watching most closely.

What Happens If the Economy Tanks?

This is the HUGE question mark. The knife industry has been on a roll for a long time, weathering the Covid slow down quite well. But if the economy does tank, stuff like a 10th knife seems a little less necessary as a purchase. I would imagine that the custom market that we deal with would be dramatically impacted (the Buster Warrenski-Michael Walker end is basically impervious to economics). These knives are the quintessential extra income purchases. Going down the ladder, I think that the kilobuck production knives are likely to fair equally poorly, if not more so. You can justify a custom knife, kinda, sorta, maybe, as supporting a small artist, but that reasoning fails when you are dealing with production knives. Knives that can be pooped out in virtually unlimited quantities also aren’t great at retaining their value, especially compared to custom knives. One rung further down the ladder and I think stuff in the Sebenza range will fair worse than the have, but not as bad as the mind boggling idea of spending a $1,000 on a gilded lily. Brands like Civivi and CRJB, as well as Knafs Co seem like capable of weathering a downturn quite well. I also think that the small brands mentioned above will do well because they hit so hard on the back of being good values (though Terrain 365 isn’t in the same value league as TRM or Quiet Carry).

This is an important year for the knife world and as a knife enthusiast, I am hopeful. I’d love to see some new stuff from Spyderco, KAI, SOG, and Cold Steel. I also love to see Magnacut spread across the knife world like magma. I don’t want to end this post on a negative note, but I am not optimistic. Even if the economy doesn’t tank, I don’t see why companies would opt for new designs when they could just print money making old knives with new paint schemes. Only time will tell.

Amazon Links

Benchmade Mini Grip

Spyderco Shaman

Spyderco PM2

Spyderco Para3

Spyderco Manix 2

Spyderco Delica

Spyderco Endura

Spyderco Native 5

Spyderco Yojimbo 2