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Benchmade 535 Bugout Review

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
Benchmade 535 Bugout
Photo: Benchmade
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $155 List | Check Price at REI
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Light, simple, well-made, full size blade, full-function
Cons:  Expensive, low profile handle, flexy plastic construction
Manufacturer:   Benchmade
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 13, 2021
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70
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 20
  • Blade and Edge Integrity - 30% 8
  • Ergonomics - 20% 7
  • Portability - 20% 8
  • Construction Quality - 20% 8
  • Other Features - 10% 0

Our Verdict

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 the best knife we have tested. It is light and relatively compact, especially considering that it has a full-size blade and 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 long-term solution to your backcountry knife needs, this is the best you can get.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Benchmade 535 Bugout
Awards Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award    
Price Check Price at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
$155 List$185 List
Check Price at REI
$160.00 at Amazon$295 List
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Pros Light, simple, well-made, full size blade, full-functionIncredible blade quality, assisted open, perfect combination of compactness/functionalityGreat blade, classy wooden handleTop-of-the-line materials, tight construction, great bladeSmall, excellent materials and construction
Cons Expensive, low profile handle, flexy plastic constructionPricey, blade lock mechanism not intuitiveExpensive, no assisted opening functionSuper expensive, small handle profileShort blade, issues with opening the blade, expensive
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 adventuresImmaculately constructed knife in a form-factor that is easy to carry and large enough for virtually every taskThis is one of the best knives we have ever tested with a wooden handleA high-end pocket knife that is readily available at proven retailers; we only wish the handle were a little bulkier for heavy usageCompact, carefully designed knife for the discerning user that seeks uniqueness and can forgive some usability issues
Rating Categories Benchmade 535 Bugout Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585 Benchmade 15031-2 North Fork 0450 Sinkevich Carbon Fiber The James Brand the Chapter
Blade And Edge Integrity (30%)
8
9
9
9
9
Ergonomics (20%)
7
8
8
7
4
Portability (20%)
8
7
7
6
8
Construction Quality (20%)
8
9
9
9
9
Other Features (10%)
0
0
0
0
0
Specs Benchmade 535 Bugout Benchmade... Benchmade 15031-2... 0450 Sinkevich... The James Brand...
Weight (ounces) 1.9 oz 3.4 oz 3.2 oz 2.4 oz 2.8 oz
Blade Style Drop point, straight Drop point, straight Drop point, straight Drop point, straight Drop point, straight
Blade locks closed? No Yes Yes No No
Opening Style Ambidextrous thumb stud Assisted, ambidextrous thumb stud Ambidextrous thumb-stud Back of knife finger tab Thumb stud
Lock Mechanism Proprietary (Axis) Proprietary (Axis) Proprietary (Axis) Frame lock Frame lock
Carry Style, in addition to loose in pocket Pocket clip and lanyard hole Pocket Clip and lanyard hole Pocket Clip Pocket clip and lanyard hole Pocket Clip
Blade Material S30V stainless steel 154CM stainless steel S30V stainless steel S35vn stainless steel S35vn stainless steel
Handle Material Grivory Plastic Stabilized wood Carbon fiber 6al4v titanium
Blade Length (inches) 3.0 in 2.8 in 2.9 in 3.2 in 2.7 in
Closed Length (inches) 4.2 in 4.0 in 3.9 in 4.1 in 3.8 in
Overall Length 7.4 in 6.9 in 6.9 in 7.4 in 6.5 in
Thickness (w/o pocket clip) (inches) .4 in .6 in .5 in .4 in .3 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.

Performance Comparison


The Benchmade Bugout is optimized for outdoor and adventure use. If...
The Benchmade Bugout is optimized for outdoor and adventure use. If you're looking for an outstanding full-sized, lightweight knife to add to your backpacking kit, this is it.
Photo: Jediah Porter

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.

We have loved every Benchmade blade we use. This Bugout blade is...
We have loved every Benchmade blade we use. This Bugout blade is thinner than others, but otherwise shares the geometry we like.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Ergonomics


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.

Benchmade's proprietary "Axis lock" mechanism is the best in the...
Benchmade's proprietary "Axis lock" mechanism is the best in the business. We find it to be more user-friendly than liner- or frame-lock designs.
Photo: Jediah Porter

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.

A few of the all-plastic handle scales. The joining and hinge...
A few of the all-plastic handle scales. The joining and hinge hardware lines these plastic scales and is confined to just the area around the main blade hinge.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Portability


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.

The "deep pocket" pocket clip style, as employed on the Benchmade...
The "deep pocket" pocket clip style, as employed on the Benchmade Bugout, is less visible on your pants than other designs.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Construction Quality


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.

This isn't the knife you would necessarily choose for home...
This isn't the knife you would necessarily choose for home handi-work. For occasional use in that setting, though, it is better than average. Just be mindful of the amount of force you exert on the all plastic handles.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Close-up view of the reinforcing and joining metal that surrounds...
Close-up view of the reinforcing and joining metal that surrounds the hinge area. You can just barely see the metal protrusion, inside the blue scales, that ends just over an inch behind the hinge. The rest of the handle is un-reinforced plastic.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Other Features


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.

Value


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.

The Benchmade Bugout is optimized for outdoor use, especially in the...
The Benchmade Bugout is optimized for outdoor use, especially in the human-powered sorts of pursuits that are getting more and more popular. Here, a spring Alaska glacier expedition basecamp, basking in the red-tent kitchen on a sunlit rest day.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Conclusion


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