Benchmade has made a boat load of knives in their thirty-plus years on the market. That’s almost thirty years as Benchmade proper (formed in 1988) and another ten years before that as Pacific Cutlery Corp and Bali-Song. The company cut their teeth making hand-made balisong (butterfly) knives and still make some of the best in the business. Benchmade produces entirely in the USA.
Over the years their lineup has expanded to include everything from some of the world’s best-regarded EDC knives for people who just want a trustworthy tool to shove in their pocket (Griptilian, 940) all the way to automatic and out-the-front knives that see duty in some of the harshest areas in the world in the military daily.
Picking just ten Benchmade’s as the “best” in production is tough, and whittle this list down is a struggle – but here’s Knife Informer’s take on the best Benchmade Knives.
The Warren Osborne-designed 940 series is one of the most popular Benchmade lines and is widely considered by knife enthusiasts to be one of the best everyday-carry knives ever made. It’s offered in a variety of different materials as well as the spinoff 943 variant, to suit a number of tastes.
The appeal of the 940 is twofold: one, it’s thin and it’s light – the standard aluminum handled 940 weighs 2.90 ounces, while the carbon fiber 940-1 is only 2.4 oz and the G-10 handled 940-2 is 2.65 oz. Two, the unique blade shape: the reverse tanto tip is unorthodox but effective, offering a tip that’s at an acute enough angle to pierce well but with enough metal behind the edge to not break easily.
All 940’s use the Axis Lock and feature an ambidextrous tip-up oriented pocket clip. The original 940 comes with anodized green aluminum handles and a bright purple geared backspacer, with CPM-S30V blade steel and your choice of satin or black finish, and a plain edge or partially serrated blade. The 940-1 is an upgraded model that’s the priciest of the bunch at about $260 retail, with contoured carbon fiber scales, anodized blue standoffs, and a satin finished CPM-S90V blade.
The newest addition is the 940-2 which is $20 cheaper than the original 940 and features contoured G10 handles and an S30V blade. If you’re not into the reverse tanto blade shape there’s also the 943, which has a hollow ground clip point blade and black anodized aluminum handles. The 940 is one of those just-right EDC knives that does something for everyone: top shelf materials, light, great in the pocket, a strong lock, and choices for every preference.
Does the Benchmade Griptilian really require an introduction on a website about knives? Probably not. It’s such an all-pervasive part of knife culture that even people who don’t know knives probably know what a Benchmade Griptilian is. For a lot of people, it was the first (and sometimes only) “good” knife they ever bought. It’s not a complex knife – simplicity and execution is the key here.
Designed by Mel Pardue, the Griptilian and Mini-Griptilian have been cornerstones of the Benchmade lineup for years. Available in two sizes (the mini has a 2.91” blade, the regular has a 3.45” blade) and a huge array of materials and blade shapes, all Griptilian family knives share the same basic handle shape – a rounded spine, and a swell towards the rear of the handle with an organic contour to the handles that make the knife just feel absolutely natural in the hand. In fact, that’s probably the draw to the Griptilian – there are no weird angles, no strange shapes, it’s a kind of form factor that feels natural to everyone that uses it.
All Griptilians use the Axis Lock, which is fantastic in this application – smooth deployment and closing, solid lockup, and fully ambidextrous function. The pocket clip is tip up right/left hand carry. The basic Griptilian comes with glass-filled Noryl GTX (a hardened plastic) handles with molded texturing for better grip, and a choice of two different blade shapes, both in 154CM (non-powdered) steel. The model 550 has a hollow-ground sheepsfoot blade with a thumb hole opener, while the 551 has a thumb stud opener and a flat ground drop point blade – the 551 being more of a general use knife while the 550 is a better utility knife and slicer. Both blade styles are supremely useful.
You can also step up to the new 550-1 or 551-1 models, which feature a number of functional and aesthetic upgrades. The blade steel is CPM-20CV, which is top tier super steel comparable to CTS-204P or Bohler M390 in terms of edge retention, corrosion resistance, toughness etc. The construction is changed from “wrap-around” handles that form a spine on the normal model to flow through construction with anodized blue standoffs. The grips are made of contoured G10, and the liners are also anodized blue for a splash of color. Finally, the -1 variants also incorporate Benchmade’s new deep-carry pocket clip.
You can also get the full sized Grip in an American Tanto variant (the 553). Of course, there are also limited edition and dealer exclusive variants of the Grip – including the new Gold Class Mini Griptilian 556-1701, with a 20CV drop point blade, and titanium handles with Dymondwood inserts and brass thumb studs for a hefty $425 retail. The discontinued Doug Ritter RSK models offered a different blade profile – wider, with a much higher flat grind – than the normal Grip as well as upgraded steels. Regardless of your preference or budget, there’s a Griptilian that’s bound to feel at home in your hand and your pocket.
When the Crooked River came out a few years ago, it was a pleasant departure for Benchmade. Part of their “Hunt” lineup, the Crooked River quickly became a favorite of the knife community and Benchmade loyalists in equal measure thanks to its charming mixture of old-school personality and modern construction and technology. It’s also a huge knife, stretching more than 9 ¼” open with a 4” blade and weighing nearly five and a half ounces.
The blade is impressive: made from CPM S30V, it has a dramatic clip point profile with a unique two-tone finish: satin on the primary grind and stonewashed on the flats. The Axis Lock holds the blade open and provides for a slick deployment/closing action. The big draw to the Crooked River are the scales: called Dymondwood, they’re made with actual wood that’s impregnated with phenolic resin to make it water resistant as well as not prone to swelling and shrinking that’s common in natural materials. It gives the Crooked River a classic appearance without the downside of handles that are loose in the winter and don’t fit in the summer – old mixed with new, like a modern Buck 110. A splash of bright orange on the G10 backspacer and the collar for the pivot brings some visual interest, as does the contrasting aluminum bolster. It’s also offered in grey G10, but why?
The Bugout (model 535) is a new mid-year offering from Benchmade in 2017, and the biggest draw is the weight…or more accurately, the lack thereof. The Bugout only weighs 1.86 ounces, which is really absurdly light considering the dimensions of the knife: a 3.25” blade with a 4.25” handle is almost never this light. By comparison, the Spyderco Delica with its FRN handles and 2.9” blade is 2.50 ounces. Benchmade’s own full-sized Griptilian (also featured on this list) is over twice the weight with a 3.45” blade. The full-titanium ZT 0450, a slim and sleek Sinkevich design, is more than an ounce heavier with the same blade length. The Bugout is seriously light.
Part of its lightweight package comes from the super-thin (0.42”) Grivory handles that forego steel liners for weight reduction. Blade thickness is almost Chaparral-thin at 0.09”, making the most of the flat ground drop point blade shape in CPM S30V. An anodized blue thumb stud matches the vibrant blue color of the handles, making the Bugout easy to find if you drop it – which is the intended MO of the 535, being designed as a lightweight camping knife for hikers who count and obsess over every gram.
The Bugout again uses the Axis Lock (notice a theme here?) – which in this instance is fashioned from DLC-coated Titanium for weight reduction – and has a reversible tip-up pocket clip as well as a lanyard hole integrated into the butt of the handle. For now there are only two versions, one with a plain edge and one with a serrated blade. If you’re looking for the peak of ultra-lightweight folding blades for your minimalist camping loadout, this is at the cutting edge.
Benchmade has existed for almost 30 years now, and another ten years before that under different names. 2017 was when they released their first slipjoint knife. The fact that Benchmade, a company long known for being on the leading edge of knife design, is making a traditional knife should tell you quite a bit about the energetic resurgence of the “traditional” knife market. With classic utilitarian blade shapes, traditional handle materials, and non-locking blades like grandpa used to carry, traditionals offer a different experience to knife nuts that are burned out on titanium frame lock flippers.
The Proper seems like a killer first effort for a company used to making tactical high-tech knives. It’s available in two versions: one with red G-10 handle scales, and one with green canvas micarta scales. G10 is a more stable material than Micarta but doesn’t have the same organic charm, in my opinion. The blade is a supremely useful Sheepsfoot shape, with a gentle curve to the belly and a medium flat grind. Unlike a lot of traditionals that use old-school non stainless high carbon steels, the Proper is made from high performance CPM-S30V.
With a 2.86” blade the Proper is “just right” sized for day to day tasks. A nail nick opens the blade, and there’s no pocket clip – the Proper is meant to be carried in pocket, like knives used to be. The Proper is a proper crossover – modern materials and construction techniques (the Proper is screwed together with Torx screws, not pinned!) meets old-school pocket knife charm. A future classic.
The Freek is another recent addition to the Benchmade lineup. For the time being it’s available in four variants: satin finished or black coated blade (an extra $15) and plain edged or serrated. It’s an imminently practical EDC knife, on the slightly larger end with a 3.6” blade but only weighing 3.70 ounces. Made from CPM-S30V steel, the Freek has a high hollow grind for optimal slicing ability and a “chunky” blade profile that’s vaguely reminiscent of the old Doug Ritter RSK Griptilians, offering good piercing ability as well as a strong tip.
The handles are interesting – they’re not just two tone, they’re actually dual durometer polymer. The outer edge (black portion) is a stiffer Versaflex material to create a strong backbone. The grey inner portion is softer Grivory giving the center some “give” for a comfortable grip without sacrificing stability. Like all other Axis lock knives, the Freek is ambidextrous tip down carry with Benchmade’s “split arrow” clip, and a thumbstud does blade deployment duties.
It’s a good value for money, offering an upgraded blade steel (S30V versus 154CM), the neat dual durometer handles, and a little more blade length than a full size Griptilian for only around $12 more – for now it’s almost a no-brainer for a midsize EDC from Benchmade.
What’s the polar opposite of the Bugout? Enter the Contego. It’s certainly not a lightweight gram-counter’s dream. The 810 Contego weighs in at just under six ounces, and stretches out almost ten inches when open. It’s big, curvy, and imposing.
The blade is made from CPM-M4, which isn’t a frequently seen blade steel but has some kick-ass characteristics. It’s a very tough steel, capable of holding an edge for a seriously long time – high in carbon, with a big chunk of Molybdenum, Tungsten and Vanadium for impressive hardness, toughness, and a fine grain size so it takes a very clean edge. However, it has a fairly low chromium content – 4% – so it’s not a stainless steel. To avoid corrosion, Benchmade coats the Contego’s blade in either a clear or a black Cerakote to prevent water intrusion.
The blade shape is unique, a combination of a clip point with the concave spine and a reverse tanto like the 940. Make no mistake, this knife is made for heavy duty use: the high flat grind originates from chunky 0.16” blade stock. The handles are aggressively contoured G10 with deep finger swells, and there’s a stainless deep carry pocket clip, which many Benchmade enthusiasts go out of their way to write Benchmade and ask them for to put on other knives. The Contego also includes a carbide glass breaker on the butt of the handle for when you just really need to rescue a dog. It’s an intriguing combination of heavy duty and curvy, useful and flashy. A knife you may not need but you definitely want.
The Adamas is another huge Benchmade, which was also featured on our guide to the Best Hard Use Folding Knives a while back. Designed by Shane Sibert who also penned the charming but sadly discontinued 755 MPR, the Adamas is no lightweight knife, tipping the scales at 7.70 ounces. The weight is thanks to its beefy dimensions as well as its construction – the blade is 0.16” thick, and the handles measure a super-wide 0.73” from side to side, with full stainless steel liners. What’s not stainless is the blade; Benchmade uses D2 tool steel on the Adamas which is an old-school tough wearing steel that’s wear and chip resistant. To avoid corrosion, Benchmade applies a black DLC coating to the blade which also gives the Adamas an imposing appearance.
For this heavy-duty application the Axis Lock has been beefed up making the Adamas the strongest folding knife Benchmade makes in terms of lock strength, testing at over 800 lbs before failure. The G10 handles are drilled to allow debris to flow through the knife, and the Adamas features a deep-carry split arrow clip in ambidextrous tip up carry. You have a few options when choosing an Adamas: tan or black G10 handles, plain edge or partially serrated, or (if permitted by law) you can upgrade to an automatic action for another $40 retail. Plus, a portion of every Adamas sale is donated to Three Rangers and the Navy Seal Foundation which (according to Benchmade) benefits the members and families of special operations. A legendary knife that benefits a good cause – what’s not to like?
Yeah, that’s a lot of money. The Anthem is more expensive than a plain-Jane Large Sebenza 21, the same price as a new Umnumzaan – it’s a pricey knife. $425 will buy you some pretty fancy things, or even a couple pretty fancy ones. So what does $425 get you at Benchmade? Well, the top of the line. The big headline here is that the Anthem is an integral knife, meaning the handle is machined out of a single block of metal rather than two halves joined with screws. In this case, it’s titanium.
It’s an engineering and manufacturing tour de force that only a few companies have successfully pulled off to this point – most noticeable being the madmen at LionSteel – and it’s an impressive sight, smooth and seemless. The handles have a chevron pattern embossed to add grip that’s had all the edges and peaks smoothed over to make it feel perfectly pocket-worn in hand. Like any good Benchmade, the Anthem uses the Axis lock – but here, it’s different. Since the normal Axis lock uses twin omega springs that sit in between the liners and the scales (requiring a two piece handle for assembly) the Anthem instead uses a single coil spring on a guide bar, which is mounted in place by two screws that pass through the spine of the knife. In addition to that trickery, the Anthem also uses caged ball bearings for the pivot. The combination of the single-piece frame, super smooth Axis lock, and bearings make the Anthem easily one of the smoothest opening and closing knives I’ve personally ever handled.
It doesn’t slouch on the blade, either. Steel is CPM-20CV, analogous to M390 or CTS-204p as one of the most high-end stainless powdered steels you can currently get, with top-notch edge retention, corrosion resistance, and toughness. It’s right in the sweet spot for usability – 3.5” long with a drop point shape and a flat grind, along with a subtle stonewash finish. They didn’t cheap out on the clip, either: it’s 3D machined titanium with a miniaturized version of the chevron texture that’s on the handles, and the Anthem is tapped for left or right hand tip up carry. This is, outside of some wild Gold Class creations, the pinnacle of Benchmade now.
The Benchmade Triage is perhaps the prototypical “rescue knife” – designed for use by First Responders, LEO, EMT’s and the like, but enjoyed by many more than that, the Triage serves a unique role as a rescue knife. To that end, it includes more than just a blade. On the spine you’ll find a seat belt cutter hook that’s deployed with a recessed thumbstud and secured with a slipjoint, in the opposite direction as the primary blade. The entire inner curve is sharpened to slice through belts or other materials under tension, but soft around the edges so as to not accidentally puncture what – or who – you’re cutting out. There’s a carbide glass breaker on the butt of the handle for smashing open windows. And of course, there’s a blade – or rather, a choice of two blades. The standard Triage features a sheepsfoot blade similar to the hollow ground Griptilian’s shape, and there’s also a blunt-tipped chisel ground “opposing bevel” blade.
The Sheepsfoot makes it less likely to accidentally stab someone you’re trying to cut free while the blunt tip trades some normal utility for being almost impossible to do so. Both blades are made from Bohler N680, a highly corrosion resistant stainless steel that Benchmade runs at a relatively soft 57-59 HRC for chipping resistance and ease of sharpening.
The Triage is available in a variety of configurations – you can get a black or a safety orange G10 handle, and with the Sheepsfoot blade you can choose between plain edge or a partially serrated edge as well as a satin finish or a black blade coating. The opposed bevel model only comes as half-serrated, with the black blade finish. All versions of the Triage use Benchmade’s solid Axis Lock to secure the blade.
There’s also the Auto Triage which brings all of these same safety features but with automated opening of both the blade (by pulling back on the axis lock bar) and the rescue hook (by pulling back on a toggle on the handle). These models use aluminum handles with G10 inserts, and they run about $100 more retail than the standard Triage. While an Auto isn’t legal for most people to carry, in most states they are legal for EMT’s and other First Responders to carry, so an auto makes a lot of sense in this application.
It’s hard to pick just ten Benchmades, so let’s add in a couple runner-ups here that are worth mentioning.
While the market for Balisongs is admittedly fairly limited, Benchmade’s history as a maker of these elaborate knives is undeniable, and they make some of the best in the business. The new Model 87 Ti Balisong is the Cadillac of butterfly knives, with titanium scales, thrust bearing washers, a magnetic latch, and a cool S30V blade in a Wharncliff pattern. Of course, it’s $510 retail so it better be cool.
The Infidel OTF was covered in our Best OTF Knives article, but for many people it’s the Out-The-Front knife, with impeccable fit and finish, a snappy dual action, and slick good looks.
The model 761 Ti Monolock offers futuristic lines, full titanium handle construction, a ball bearing pivot, and a 3.73” drop point in high-end M390 steel for a hefty $340.
And finally, let’s all collectively pour one out for the classic 710 – a McHenry & Williams design that was the first Axis Lock design Benchmade produced, which sadly left production last year. It’s slim profile and 3.9” recurved clip point blade was a favorite of many, and it managed the rare trick of feeling small yet packing a lot of blade length. Shame it’s gone.
Did we miss any of your favorite Benchmade’s? Be sure to drop us a line.