Benchmade brands the Bugout as "[…] designed for the modern outdoor adventurer." We don't normally cite catalog copy, but we couldn't agree more with their phrasing. For self-propelled, wild travels, the Benchmade Bugout is arguably the best pocket knife we have tested. It is light and relatively compact, especially considering that it has a full-size blade, full-function usefulness, and carrying options. At the weight (1.9 oz), you won't find a sturdier and more functional pocket knife. That weight is low enough to carry on 'most any adventure, and the function of the Bugout will not let you down. If you're looking for a knife that is a long-term solution to your backcountry needs, this is the best you can get.Editor's Note: We updated this review for Benchmade 535 Bugout on August 25, 2022, with additional data from our in-depth testing process, an unbiased assessment of value, and suggestions for comparable products that may better suit your needs and budget.
Benchmade 535 Bugout Review
Cons: Expensive, low profile handle, flexy plastic construction
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Benchmade 535 Bugout
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|Pros||Light, simple, well-made, full size blade, full-function||Incredible blade quality, assisted open, perfect combination of compactness/functionality||Excellent blade quality, solid construction, great grip design||Beautifully constructed, assisted open, good value||Small, portable, well-constructed|
|Cons||Expensive, low profile handle, flexy plastic construction||Pricey, blade lock mechanism not intuitive||Heavy and bulky, assisted opening requires some force||Slender handle makes it hard to apply even pressure, thin blade is fragile||Not made for heavy-duty use|
|Bottom Line||For a full-function, full-size pocket knife, this is as light as it gets, and is the premier option for all sorts of human-powered adventures||Immaculately constructed knife in a form-factor that is easy to carry and large enough for virtually every task||This top performer has a large blade and ergonomic handle for big cutting jobs and all-day use||A slender, svelte pocket knife with great materials and a reasonable value||A tiny, multi-function pocket knife|
|Rating Categories||Benchmade 535 Bugout||Benchmade Mini-Barr...||Kershaw Link||Kershaw Leek||Victorinox Classic...|
|Blade and Edge Integrity (30%)|
|Construction Quality (20%)|
|Other Features (10%)|
|Specs||Benchmade 535 Bugout||Benchmade Mini-Barr...||Kershaw Link||Kershaw Leek||Victorinox Classic...|
|Weight||1.9 oz||3.4 oz||4.7 oz||3.1 oz||0.8 oz|
|Blade Length||3.0 in||2.8 in||3.2 in||2.9 in||1.4 in|
|Blade Material||S30V stainless steel||154CM stainless steel||CPM 20CV steel||Sandvik 14C28N stainless steel||Proprietary Stainless (between 440A and 420)|
|Handle Material||Grivory||Plastic||Anodized aluminum||410 stainless steel||Plastic|
|Blade Style||Drop point, straight||Drop point, straight||Drop point, straight||Drop point, straight||Drop point, straight|
|Blade locks closed?||No||Yes||No||Yes||No|
|Opening Style||Ambidextrous thumb stud||Assisted, ambidextrous thumb stud||Assisted, flipper||Assisted, ambidextrous thumb stud; back-of-knife finger tab||Fingernail|
|Lock Mechanism||Proprietary (Axis)||Proprietary (Axis)||Liner lock||Frame lock||None|
|Carry Style||Pocket clip and lanyard hole||Pocket clip and lanyard hole||Pocket clip, Lanyard hole||Pocket clip and lanyard hole||Keyring|
|Closed Length||4.2 in||4.0 in||4.4 in||4.0 in||2.3 in|
|Overall Length||7.4 in||6.9 in||7.6 in||7.0 in||3.8 in|
|Thickness (w/o pocket clip)||0.4 in||0.6 in||0.5 in||0.3 in||0.4 in|
|Other Features or Functions||None||Lanyard hole, modular clip||Lanyard hole, modular clip||None||Scissors, nail file, small screwdriver, tweezers, toothpick, key ring|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Bugout is a full-function, full-sized knife that is made as light as possible. In this way, it stands out. It has basically all the performance and usability attributes of a full-size, day-to-day tool, but it weighs less (much less) than other close competitors. For outdoor adventures, the Bugout is the best we know of. You can find slightly lighter knives, but they will greatly compromise usability or durability (or both) compared to the Bugout.
If you need a knife for adventure travel, backpacking, mountain pursuits, and any other human-powered endeavors, this is your best choice. This will also suffice if you want something low-profile and light for day-to-day use. Something sturdier and bulkier will be better, but not by much. Be just a tiny bit cautious about using the Bugout in the most rigorous knife tasks; its handle isn't as strong as other options available.
Blade and Edge Integrity
Benchmade is known for great blades, especially compared to other widely available options. The deep, gently tapered blade of the Bugout is familiar. We've long tested and enjoyed Benchmade knives. The geometry and faceting of the Bugout are reminiscent of others we've used.
Overall the blade is similar in length and depth to others we like, but the Bugout blade, to save both weight and bulk, is thinner than other top-scoring Benchmade blades. We noticed little to no disadvantage of this compromise.
The S30V steel employed in the award-winning Bugout is great. We had no problems with it. We've used the same steel in other knives long-term and found it to hold an edge there too. We especially like that Benchmade will return a factory edge to your knife with their "LifeSharp" program. You'll sharpen your knife at home from time to time, but periodic factory service will certainly enhance your knife's usability. Benchmade makes this easy and affordable.
Use of your knife is informed by mechanical attributes like deployment and lock characteristics, as well as by geometry and size. In terms of usability, there is an ideal size for a pocket knife. Of course, portability factors in as well; smaller is always better for portability. We want the handle of a knife we'll use for heavy and extended purposes to fill a gently closed fist. We want that handle to be rounded but not entirely round. We want it to be textured but not sharp. We also, of course, want deployment and locking/unlocking to work smoothly and intuitively.
The ambidextrous, thumb-stud deployment of the Bugout blade is great. It is our preferred type of blade deployment. In day-to-day use and pocket carry, we prefer that the blade's thumb stud deployment be assisted by spring action. The Bugout does not have an opening assist. An assisted opening can become a liability for human-powered adventuring, where your knife will get carried in various bags and configurations. You don't want your knife to open itself in any situation. That is unlikely in your pocket. It is more likely if the knife is jostling around in a bag or container. This non-assisted, standard opening mechanism was a key consideration in granting this knife our top award for adventuring.
The proprietary "Axis lock" of most Benchmade knives (including the Bugout) is definitely our favorite lock method. It is ambidextrous, doable with thin gloves and a reasonable proposition with just one hand. Liner lock and frame lock options (as found on basically all other modern pocket knives) are not as slick and convenient as Benchmade's Axis lock.
Finally, let us comment on the geometrical ergonomics of the Bugout. The length and depth of the handle are just about optimal, while the width is a little thinner than ideal. The Bugout compromises ergonomics for weight and packability, but we're ok with that in this context. You, too, will wish for slightly more rounded bulk in your hand for the heaviest and longest of tasks.
For a full-size, full-function pocket knife, the Bugout is very light. The thinned-down handle profile also enhances packability. We have a hard time imagining a lighter knife that packs in all the durability, usability, and function of the Bugout.
You can get knives that are smaller and/or lighter, but they won't work nearly as well as the Bugout. We like the short, simple pocket clip that can be configured for either left- or right-side carry.
The pocket clip geometry allows the knife to sit deep in your pocket, almost completely obscured. Others stick up more when pocket-clipped.
Across the board, first impressions of the construction quality of the Benchmade were mixed. The hinges and mechanisms are clearly well-done. However, the low weight does not immediately inspire confidence. You expect more mass in a knife of this size. For that reason, you might not fully trust it when you first pick it up.
Those first impressions are unfounded. Yes, the handle scales are almost entirely plastic, and you can see/feel them flex in use. There is no metal frame inside the knife, as with other options. The hinge, lock, and deployment mechanisms are greatly "stripped down" to save grams and fractions of grams. You won't be hammering on this knife in chisel fashion. While few pocket knives may hold up to this sort of use, this one definitely won't. Nonetheless, it is sturdy enough. It is sturdy enough for day-to-day use and extended wilderness applications.
There are no other features on the 535 Bugout. You couldn't shoe-horn any more functionality into this knife without adding much weight.
Should You Buy the Benchmade 535 Bugout?
For self-propelled adventuring, this is the best of the pocket knives we tested. But this is not an inexpensive knife – it is a specialized tool. Think of it as you think of other ultralight adventure equipment; durability and value are not the goals of selecting something in the ultralight category. If you use it in the trades or for professional-level wilderness travel, you'll get your money's worth from it before it fully degrades, but another choice will be an even better value.
What Other Pocket Knives Should You Consider?
We are happy with the high performance of the Benchmade 535 Bugout as an outdoor-specialized, ultralight, full-function pocket knife. But for the money, especially if you use it in "normal" day-to-day life, the blade integrity and durability of the Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585 holds a slight edge over the Bugout. These knives are expensive tools, so if you are looking for something a bit more affordable, consider the price-point value that the Kershaw Leek offers.
— Jediah Porter
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