Benchmade 535 Bugout Review
Cons: Expensive, low profile handle, flexy plastic construction
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Benchmade 535 Bugout
$144.00 at REI
$148.50 at Amazon
$46.87 at Amazon
$21.90 at Amazon
|$29.95 at REI|
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|Pros||Light, simple, well-made, full size blade, full-function||Incredible blade quality, assisted open, perfect combination of compactness/functionality||Beautifully constructed, assisted open, good value||Sharp looking and cutting, good materials, inexpensive||Serrated blade portion, carabiner carry option, lightweight, good blade steel|
|Cons||Expensive, low profile handle, flexy plastic construction||Pricey, blade lock mechanism not intuitive||Slender handle makes it hard to apply even pressure, thin blade is fragile||Less-than-ideal pocket clip orientation, sharp stowed edges wear clothing||Rudimentary construction, primitive lockback|
|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||A slender, svelte pocket knife with great materials and a reasonable value||A budget knife that leads its price range in performance and downright impressive quality||The best knife we have tested for rock, ice, and alpine climbing|
|Rating Categories||Benchmade 535 Bugout||Benchmade Mini-Barr...||Kershaw Leek||Sanrenmu 7010||Petzl Spatha|
|Blade and Edge Integrity (30%)|
|Construction Quality (20%)|
|Other Features (10%)|
|Specs||Benchmade 535 Bugout||Benchmade Mini-Barr...||Kershaw Leek||Sanrenmu 7010||Petzl Spatha|
|Weight||1.9 oz||3.4 oz||3.1 oz||3.2 oz||1.5 oz|
|Blade Length||3.0 in||2.8 in||2.9 in||2.7 in||2.7 in|
|Blade Material||S30V stainless steel||154CM stainless steel||Sandvik 14C28N stainless steel||8Cr13MoV stainless steel||Sandvik 12C27 stainless steel|
|Handle Material||Grivory||Plastic||410 stainless steel||Stainless Steel||Nylon|
|Blade Style||Drop point, straight||Drop point, straight||Drop point, straight||Straight||Drop Point, hybrid straight/serrated|
|Blade locks closed?||No||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Opening Style||Ambidextrous thumb stud||Assisted, ambidextrous thumb stud||Assisted, ambidextrous thumb stud. And back-of-knife finger tab.||Ambidextrous Thumb stud||Ambidextrous thumb hole, ridged traction ring|
|Lock Mechanism||Proprietary (Axis)||Proprietary (Axis)||Frame lock||Frame lock||Lock back|
|Carry Style, in addition to loose in pocket||Pocket clip and lanyard hole||Pocket Clip and lanyard hole||Pocket Clip and lanyard hole||Pocket Clip and lanyard hole||Carabiner hole|
|Closed Length||4.2 in||4.0 in||4.0 in||3.7 in||4.2 in|
|Overall Length||7.4 in||6.9 in||7.0 in||6.5 in||7.0 in|
|Thickness (w/o pocket clip)||0.4 in||0.6 in||0.3 in||0.4 in||0.5 in|
|Other Features or Functions||None||None||None||None||None|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Bugout is a full-function, full-sized knife that is then 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) as 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. If you want something low-profile and light for day-to-day use, this will also suffice. Something a little sturdier and bulkier will be better, but not by much. Be just a tiny bit cautious about using the Bugout in the most rigorous of knife tasks; its handle isn't as strong as some other options available.
Blade and Edge Integrity
Benchmade is known for great blades, especially as compared to any 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're going to 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. There is an ideal size for a pocket knife, in terms of usability (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, all things considered. In day-to-day use and pocket carry, we prefer that thumb stud deployment to be assisted by spring action in the blade. The Bugout does not have opening assist. For human-powered adventuring, where your knife will get carried in a variety of bags and configurations, assisted opening can become a liability. 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 other container. This non-assisted, standard opening mechanism was a key consideration in granting this knife our top award we grant 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 on, 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. The width is a little thinner than ideal. The Bugout compromises ergonomics for weight and packability. We're ok with that, in this context. For the heaviest and longest of tasks you too will wish for slightly more rounded bulk in your hand.
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, when you first pick it up, you might not fully trust it.
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. Few pocket knives, actually, would 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 this knife.
You couldn't shoe-horn any more functionality into this knife without adding a great deal of weight. You want your knife like this to have no other features.
This is not an inexpensive knife. It is a specialized tool. It will last a long time, but it won't hold up for multi-generation "heirloom" status. Think of it like you think of other ultralight adventure equipment; durability and value are not the goals of selecting something in the ultralight category. That being said, if you only use this in the wilderness it will last decades. If you use it in "normal" day-to-day life, it will also last decades, just not as many. 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.
We are happy to find the high performance of this outdoor-specialized, ultralight, full-function pocket knife. We comment on the all-around function of pocket knives, but we care the most about using them in wilderness and adventure travel. For self-propelled adventuring, this is the best knife we have tested.
— Jediah Porter
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