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Petzl Spatha Review

The best knife we have tested for rock, ice, and alpine climbing
Petzl Spatha
Photo: Petzl
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $30 List | Check Price at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Serrated blade portion, carabiner carry option, lightweight, good blade steel
Cons:  Rudimentary construction, primitive lockback
Manufacturer:   Petzl
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 13, 2021
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56
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#16 of 20
  • Blade and Edge Integrity - 30% 6
  • Ergonomics - 20% 5
  • Portability - 20% 8
  • Construction Quality - 20% 6
  • Other Features - 10% 0

Our Verdict

The Petzl Spatha is the knife we recommend most highly for climbing usage. It is light, sturdy, versatile, and readily carried in climbing settings. The functionality and materials far exceed that which you need for climbing-only applications. Not only is this a great climbing knife; it is a serviceable knife for day-to-day use and a great climbing knife.

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Petzl Spatha
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Petzl Spatha
Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award   Editors' Choice Award 
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$155 List$185 List
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Pros Serrated blade portion, carabiner carry option, lightweight, good blade steelIncredible blade quality, assisted open, perfect combination of compactness/functionalityGreat blade, classy wooden handleTop-of-the-line materials, tight construction, great bladeLight, simple, well-made, full size blade, full-function
Cons Rudimentary construction, primitive lockbackPricey, blade lock mechanism not intuitiveExpensive, no assisted opening functionSuper expensive, small handle profileExpensive, low profile handle, flexy plastic construction
Bottom Line The best knife we have tested for rock, ice, and alpine climbingImmaculately 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 usageFor 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
Rating Categories Petzl Spatha Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585 Benchmade 15031-2 North Fork 0450 Sinkevich Carbon Fiber Benchmade 535 Bugout
Blade And Edge Integrity (30%)
6
9
9
9
8
Ergonomics (20%)
5
8
8
7
7
Portability (20%)
8
7
7
6
8
Construction Quality (20%)
6
9
9
9
8
Other Features (10%)
0
0
0
0
0
Specs Petzl Spatha Benchmade... Benchmade 15031-2... 0450 Sinkevich... Benchmade 535 Bugout
Weight (ounces) 1.5 oz 3.4 oz 3.2 oz 2.4 oz 1.9 oz
Blade Style Drop Point, hybrid straight/serrated Drop point, straight Drop point, straight Drop point, straight Drop point, straight
Blade locks closed? No Yes Yes No No
Opening Style Ambidextrous thumb hole, ridged traction ring Assisted, ambidextrous thumb stud Ambidextrous thumb-stud Back of knife finger tab Ambidextrous thumb stud
Lock Mechanism Lock back Proprietary (Axis) Proprietary (Axis) Frame lock Proprietary (Axis)
Carry Style, in addition to loose in pocket Carabiner hole Pocket Clip and lanyard hole Pocket Clip Pocket clip and lanyard hole Pocket clip and lanyard hole
Blade Material Sandvik 12C27 stainless steel 154CM stainless steel S30V stainless steel S35vn stainless steel S30V stainless steel
Handle Material Nylon Plastic Stabilized wood Carbon fiber Grivory
Blade Length (inches) 2.7 in 2.8 in 2.9 in 3.2 in 3.0 in
Closed Length (inches) 4.2 in 4.0 in 3.9 in 4.1 in 4.2 in
Overall Length 7.0 in 6.9 in 6.9 in 7.4 in 7.4 in
Thickness (w/o pocket clip) (inches) .5 in .6 in .5 in .4 in .4 in
Other Features or Functions None None None None None

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Spatha is a knife designed specifically for climbing. This means that it is built to be carried on a carabiner, is relatively lightweight, and includes a serrated section of the blade for cutting rope and webbing. The fact is that, even if you carry it only while climbing, you will likely use it for non-climbing specific purposes most of the time. The members of our testing team that climb a lot can assert that cutting rope and webbing is actually a very rare part of most climbers' days. Worry not, as the Spatha is also a serviceable "regular" pocket knife.

Performance Comparison


This is exactly what you picture doing with your climbing knife;...
This is exactly what you picture doing with your climbing knife; removal or maintenance of semi-permanent anchor materials. Some climbers do this with regularity, but most of us do not.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Blade and Edge Integrity


Petzl easily could have "phoned it in" on the blade and edge of the Spatha. A specialized, seldom-used tool like this doesn't actually have to have a great blade. Thankfully, they put a great blade in it. The Scandinavian 12C27 steel (stamped right on the blade, alongside the qualifier "inox." "Inox" is the French abbreviation for "stainless" steel. Short for "inoxydable" or "not oxidizable," it means that it's resistant to rusting. Petzl's European loyalties are clear: Scandinavian steel and French abbreviations) is well-regarded. It is nothing flashy but has been shaped into great blades for decades all through Europe.

 

The Spatha has a half straight, half-serrated blade. Generally, for day-to-day pocket knives, we like fully straight-blades. A straight edge is way easier to maintain and more versatile than a serrated one. A straight edge does everything a serrated edge does, but the opposite is not true. A serrated edge is marginally better at cutting cordage than a straight edge, especially with equal (especially, equally poor) edge maintenance. A dulled serrated edge will hack through rope and webbing better than a dulled straight edge. Because it is optimized for rope-intensive settings, we like the serrated section of the Spatha blade. This is officially the only application where we recommend a serrated section. For any other purposes, choose a straight blade and keep it sharp.

If anything, own more than one knife. Own this one for climbing only and own another, with a fully straight blade, for day-to-day and non-climbing adventures. We feel that strongly about serrated sections in your blade edge; avoid them except for rope-intensive applications.

You can open the Spatha a variety of ways. That grey circle moves...
You can open the Spatha a variety of ways. That grey circle moves with the blade; you can use it to open the blade, which is especially handy with gloves on.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Ergonomics


The Spatha blade is full-sized, the handle is relatively thin and low profile, the blade can be opened with one hand (with either thumb, in the blade's cutout) or with the ribbed hinge ring, and the blade locks open with a traditional "lockback" bar. None of these ergonomic matters are on the leading edge, but they all do the job and make sense in this application. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the knife, ergonomically, is the large ribbed ring that can be used to open the Spatha. This is readily manipulated with gloves on. No other knife we've used is as easy to open with gloves on. We like this, even for purposes not climbing related.

 

The traditional lockback mechanism isn't very sophisticated and it is prone to developing more play than other modern solutions. However, with the huge hinge, carabiner hole, and opening "traction ring", the lockback configuration makes sense and is likely the only real feasible solution. In all but the most extensive, robust use the lockback will do just fine. Like the opening ring, the lockback can be manipulated with gloves on better than other options.

The full-length handle is great for heavier tasks. It is just a...
The full-length handle is great for heavier tasks. It is just a little thin for maximum effectiveness.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Portability


The Petzl Spatha weighs 1.5 oz and, when closed, measures 4.2 x 0.5 inches. The dimensions are pretty typical for a full-function pocket knife, but that weight is remarkably low. Of the knives we tested, all those that are close in weight are much, much smaller. The weight savings comes with Petzl's choice of an almost all plastic handle and a relatively thin blade.

 

You can carry the Spatha loose in a pocket or bag, like any pocket knife. Further, the hinge/opening ring has a huge hole in the middle of it for clipping to a carabiner. So clipped it hangs with gravity (plus the friction in the hinge) keeping the blade closed and dangles minimally low on your harness. This is great. A knife handy on your harness is a good thing in some climbing settings. Note that all that keeps the knife closed is friction in the hinge. Given that at least some of the hinge surface is plastic-on-metal, you might anticipate this hinge friction to degrade. Our team has carried versions of the Spatha for years with no important loss of friction. However, this long-term test finding has had limited actual use of the knife. It is conceivable that a Spatha, if deployed extensively and regularly, could develop play and lose friction considerably more than a typical pocket knife. We will keep testing and keep reporting.

The Petzl Spatha's carabiner hole does exactly what it is made to do.
The Petzl Spatha's carabiner hole does exactly what it is made to do.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Construction Quality


The first impressions of our testers with the Spatha, accustomed to sturdy, everyday pocket knives, was relatively unremarkable. The all-plastic handle, somewhat rough hinge friction, primitive lockback design, and low weight combine to leave our test team somewhat underwhelmed, at first glance.

 

Long-term use, though, indicates that the Petzl Spatha will hold up just fine. As noted above, there is good reason to believe that the hinge may lose friction and risk the blade opening inadvertently. We have not found that to be the case but will continue investigating.

As compared to "regular" pocket knives, the Spatha is unique in...
As compared to "regular" pocket knives, the Spatha is unique in design and appearance. For climbing, the design makes sense.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Other Features


There are no other features on the Petzl Spatha.

 

While there are no additional tools or functions on the Spatha, this is a good time to comment on the versatility of this knife. You will likely choose a climbing knife primarily for cutting cord and webbing. The fact is, though, that cutting rope and webbing while climbing is quite rare. There are precious few instances in routine climbing that you need a knife to cut rope or webbing. If that is all you used a knife for, the blade could be tiny and entirely serrated. Such products exist. That being said, if you are going to carry a knife while climbing, you will almost certainly find many other uses for it. If you are using it for anything other than cutting rope and webbing, you will be glad for the versatility of the full-size Spatha blade.

This is the more frequent application of a climbing knife; prepping...
This is the more frequent application of a climbing knife; prepping lunch by cutting the cheddar. The Spatha is as good for this as it is for cutting rope and webbing.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Value


For the function and versatility, the Spatha is relatively inexpensive. For day-to-day carry, you can spend this amount and get better materials, construction, and ergonomics. But for climbing purposes, plus more mundane applications, you can't do better at any price.

Petzl chose good blade steel when they didn't have to. This is good.
Petzl chose good blade steel when they didn't have to. This is good.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Conclusion


The Petzl Spatha is the knife we currently recommend for climbers. Its full-size stature is handy for many tasks beyond cutting rope and webbing. Its construction, materials, and portability are carefully balanced for optimum application in steep terrain. Our test team has used other knives while climbing, but we haven't yet formally tested any of the other major climbing-specific options. We know enough to know that the Spatha is great, but we also know enough to know that we can continue to look at other options. Stay tuned for possible direct comparisons of other climbing-specific knives.

Jediah Porter