Benchmade sure has evolved over the years, from the late 1970’s as a balisong knife maker, to a full production knife company producing tactical, EDC, hunting and kitchen knives. In 2019, they quietly released a massive hit on the knife world with the Bugout, an extremely lightweight yet capable EDC folder. Shortly after, they released the Bailout, with a very similar profile and style to the Bugout, but with a tanto blade shape and a slightly more tactical approach.
aluminum bodied handle with a coated M4 blade, or the more affordable FRN handled version with 3V blade steel, the Bailout is sure to find it’s way into the pockets of folding knife lovers of all types, assuming the tanto blade shape is appealing. It’s a strong, lightweight EDC folder that’s capable of real world use in work or play, but the classic Benchmade price premium is present here again. Benchmade has a world class warranty and customer service, but does this tough little folder quantify it’s price when compared to other’s in it’s category in 2021? And how does the Bailout do on it’s own, as an EDC knife option in it’s “high end” production category? Don’t Bail Out just yet, we’re only getting started….
Key Specs: Benchmade Bailout
Our review unit of the Bailout is the higher-end model, with the CPM-M4 coated tanto blade. Both the CPM-M4 and CPM-3V blade options for the Bailout are identical with exception to the blade steel composition, so all the technical data will transfer over to both variants. With a 3.4”, flat ground tanto blade profile, this blade inspires use and confidence, while maintaining a thin profile, with a blade stock thickness of just 0.09”.
CPM-M4 steel composition is one of my personal favorite user knife steels, as it’s quite tough, has great edge retention, and takes a screaming sharp edge in sharpening. This thin blade, with a reinforced tip, and a tough steel composition, is a very well rounded design for real use. There are many ways to make a tanto blade, and I venture to say that Benchmade has chosen a very competent style for this knife.
The belly of the blade is not completely flat, with a very gentle swoop from the heel of the blade, to the secondary edge. This allows for some, albeit not great, ability to cut on a flat surface with the belly. There are some tantos that are completely flat along the primary edge, leaving little to no room for that portion of the blade to cut material, say rope on a work bench. The primary edge comes to a halt out near the tip, when the secondary edge is introduced into the blade. The location at which the primary and secondary edges intersect is a critical one, or at least has a purpose outside of a random choice.
With the two edges meeting closer to the tip, rather than further away, the user is left with a primary edge that’s longer and thinner behind the edge, for the majority of the use that most pocket knives will see in normal use. And having a short secondary edge, you’re left with a small section of the blade that’s thicker, for confidence in penetrating materials, and using that smaller edge for scraping tasks. I’ve had the pleasure of using this knife in many different instances, utilizing these aspects of the blade for different reasons, and it’s quite nice to have a blade that’s designed with the user in mind, rather than aesthetics alone.
Benchmade makes sure the user knows what brand they’re using, by branding all their blades with their insignia; the Butterfly logo (harkening back to their origins with butterfly knives). It’s a small logo on the blade, but it’ll be seen any time their knives are used by the user themselves, or by a curious bystander wishing to catch a glimpse of what knife they may want to run out and buy next. The other side of the blade reads “M4”, with a microscopic text line under it, “benchmade.com/patent”.
Just next to the text on either side of the blade are the thumb studs for deploying the blade. Just above the text on the blade, is the swedge cut into the spine of the blade, saving weight from the knife’s overall feel and keeping a slim spine for passing through material. Although Benchmade’s website only reads “gray coated” for the blade coating, I’d venture to guess that they’re using a cerakote of sorts to keep this blade from picking up too much corrosion, as CPM-M4 is not a stainless steel. Plus, it looks super cool. Tacti-cool, if you will. There comes a stigma with coated, tanto blades from some keyboard warriors on internet forums and review videos on knives, but I think this blade looks great in this form, hides scratches and use, keeps the steel from corroding, and matches the handle scales better with the gray color scheme. But hey, to each his own.
Features, Fit and Finish
The Bailout has some striking similarities to the Bugout, but also has some quantifiable upgrades to it’s overall package. Starting with the handles, they’re comprised of 6061-T6 aluminum, giving them great durability and strength, keeping them rigid even under harder use. Benchmade is again using the cartridge liner style construction found on the 940, Bugout, and various other models. This furthers the rigidity and strength to the handle scales. This also keeps the weight down, allowing for the featherweight folder to stay well under 3 ounces, at 2.7 to be exact.
The handle scales are also contoured, giving them a much more premium feel than if they were left squared off. And, to complete the handles, Benchmade has textured the scales with a diamond plate type pattern. A very subtle addition to this detail is that they made the texturing more aggressive near the top of the handle, but more subtle near the base. This allows the knife to go in and out of the pocket even easier, as the texturing is very smooth near the base of the handle. It’s little details like this, that prove that Benchmade cares more about their knives than one might think at first glance. It shows their decades in the knife production world, and their attention to detail in their finished products.
The 3.4” tanto blade is a great size both for EDC use, and for those keeping in compliance with their local ordinances, which tend to regulate a blade length under 3.5” (although this changes drastically from state to state, as well as county to county, so know your local laws). At the other end of the knife, down at the bottom of the handle, is an addition not found on the Bugout: the pommel. This small piece of metal houses three different features: pommel, for “hammering”, or beating on things, a glass breaker, and lanyard hole. This piece also serves as a backspacer for the bottom of the handle, and takes the Bailout’s style into the tactical realm of styling. But it’s functional, too.
Not that any of us are out there breaking glass in emergency situations on a regular basis with our folders, but I did give this glass breaker a try on a thick empty glass bottle, and it broke it quite readily. So it works, in the event that you’d ever need to break yourself out of your sinking car in a lake with your pocket knife, I’d venture to say you have a better chance with this knife, than without it. But back to the real world, the backspacer/pommel does protrude out of the pocket a little more than you’d find on the Bugout, but didn’t prove to ever snag or catch on anything in my use in carrying the Bailout.
Fit and finish on the Bailout is quite good. The aluminum scales are chamfered well, save for the inner section near the top of the handle. I did notice this spot to give me some negative feedback in use, but nothing terribly uncomfortable. The screw holes are not chamfered either, so if you’re looking for it, you’ll notice that these holes feel just a little sharp to the touch, but never something you’d notice in normal use. The fitment is great, with no real perceptible blade play, or alignment issues between separable parts. And the clip on the Bailout is the same mini deep carry clip found on the Bugout, and it’s one of my favorites. It hides the knife like a pen in the pocket, so it’s discreet. It has great retention to keep the knife in place in the pocket, and disappears in the hand when in use, thanks to it’s carefully placed location.
Deployment / Lockup
If you’ve ever had, or handled a Benchmade knife, you probably know about the Axis lock. It has recently lost it’s patent, but remains a staple of design within the Benchmade product line. The Bailout utilizes this very popular lock style, and has some great attributes to go along with it. In deploying the Bailout, using the traditional method of flicking the blade via the thumb studs is as straight forward as turning on the kitchen faucet. It’s quick, easy, and reliable. And it can be done with either hand, as the Axis lock knives are completely ambidextrous. The Bailout is the same on either side of the knife, and the pocket clip can be swapped for left or right hand carry, completing the ambidexterity feature.
With the Axis lock, typically comes phosphor bronze washers. A pivot system made with this type of washer typically allows for a very smooth, swift deployment, and the Bailout is no exception to that rule. The blade flicks out easily from the closed position, to the locked open position with little effort, and with the speed of an automatic side opener. One aspect of this locking mechanism that I personally find lackluster is the absence of a true detent. The blade stays closed with normal use, but it’s the feel of the blade retention in the closed position that urks me. Shaking the knife while closed (albeit not a normal activity whatsoever) presents the wiggle of the blade in it’s closed position. This omega-spring Axis lock has a spongy feel to the blade in the closed position. I’ve learned to love a nice, snappy detent with my folders, but this is admittedly just a preference and has no real world use negative consequence.
The Axis lock is strong, undoubtedly. With the blade in the locked open position, the Axis lock bar blocks the blade from moving back down to it’s closed position. This is, of course, so long as the omega springs holding the lock bar in place have not failed. There are many, many accounts of the omega springs breaking in Axis lock knives, rendering the lock completely useless until the springs are replaced. Resorting to the nearly perfect Benchmade warranty, this is something that the company is happy to replace for the user at little to no cost, but gives me pause in confidence and use. But I digress; the Axis lock provides for a very solid lockup in normal use. Unlocking the blade is fidget friendly, and just as quick as opening the blade. The knife opens quickly, gets used, and closes just as fast and easy. It’s just what the doctor ordered for an EDC folder, and is truly usable for righties and lefties alike.
Just as a car collector loves driving their cars, I love using my knives. It’s the culmination of design, technology, production, and consumerism that all comes to a point where rubber meets the road, or, where the steel meets the cardboard. And speaking of cardboard, the Bailout is a great cutter for the packages we all order so many of in this COVID era. With a secondary tip, at the intersection of the two edges on the blade, the knife can cut open a box without penetrating overly deep beyond the tape, leaving the contents safe from slicing open your next online purchase.
And speaking of the edge, this CPM-M4 blade is well done from the factory. I’ll admit that I usually strop any factory edge even when brand new, because big manufacturers use grinders with somewhat coarse grit belts for sharpening, leaving the edge quite aggressive. That’s not a bad thing, but a quick strop helps brighten up the sharpness on the edge for a little more refined feel to the cuts. With a nice sharp edge, and a thin blade stock, breaking down a few boxes from the garage box graveyard is pretty enjoyable, for knife use. It initiates cuts easily, and transitions from the primary to secondary edge without thought, allowing use of the complete length of the edge, without any perceived change in feel.
Most of us won’t need to shave down feather sticks off a random 2×4, but I like to test my knives in this way for ergonomics, more than anything. When using a full hammer grip, or the traditional saber grip, the ergos are about as good as can be expected from an extremely thin handle with contours. The jimping is subtle enough that it doesn’t cause discomfort, but helps keep the knife in place when being used. The position of the pocket clip is great, as it lands in just the right place to disappear in the palm, at least in my use. In this test, I did notice that the handle scales, near the top of the handle, are quite sharp on the inside edges. I imagine this would be easily remedied with a quick file along the edge, but at a retail price of $220, I’ve come to expect a higher level of perceived fit and finish to my folders.
With a weight of just 2.7 ounces, a small pocket clip, and a thin footprint, the Bailout carries like a dream. I typically have a tool belt on for a good portion of my work day, but it is nice to have a folder that just tucks away in the pocket without getting in the way. The Bailout sits deep in the pocket, and the pocket clip retention is very tight. I can’t imagine this knife coming out of the pocket in almost any extreme, even with basketball shorts and going for a run, it stays in place without any movement whatsoever. The feel of the knife when brand new out of the package, has a bit of a chalky feel to it on the aluminum handle scales. This is normal for Benchmade’s folders, but does wear away into a nice smooth finish fairly quickly after using and carrying it for a couple weeks. The texturing on the handle scales is just enough that it helps keep the knife in the hand, feels good to the touch, and gives what would otherwise be a mildly boring handle some character. So it feels good, looks good, carries well, and proves to be a good overall user. What more could you want for $220 in an EDC folder?
All these knives available at BladeHQ.As we’ve mentioned a few times in this review, the Bugout is the most closely related, comparable knife to the Bailout. The Bugout has been released in many forms, with exclusives and special editions coming and going quite frequently. Benchmade has also added the Bugout to it’s custom shop, where online shoppers can design their own knife, using multiple choices of handle scale materials, blade steel compositions, color ways, and other options. But in it’s stock form, the Bugout is still a humble knife, with the two stock color options coming in between $130 and $150. This price point still feels a touch high considering the materials used on the plain Bugouts, but they sell like hotcakes and it seems like everyone has at least one of them, so Benchmade is doing something right. The original Bugout has a slightly shorter blade, at 3.24”, but keeps the same 0.4” thickness in the handle scales. It is quite a bit lighter, at a featherweight 1.8 ounces, but uses the same cartridge liners, same clip, and same Axis lock that the Bailout uses. The Bugout and Bailout are definitely very closely related cousins.
Spyderco and Benchmade have been household names for decades, and have often very closeley competed against each other. The Paramilitary 2 is one of Spyderco’s most well known knives of all time, and they have recently begun a new path of alternative blade shapes to the Paramilitary 2. The tanto was just recently released, and comes in an S30V blade steel, but they also have had an CPM-M4 version pass through the Blade HQ website as an exclusive. This knife sold out extremely fast, but as an exclusive, it will have more of these produced in the near future, and will be available again for purchase.
The CPM-M4 tanto Paramiltary 2 is quite the competitor for pockets when compared to the CPM-M4 Bailout. The PM2 is a heavier, thicker knife, but I’d argue that it has the same philosophy of use as the Bailout. The PM2 M4 tantos came in a satin or coated blade, and were between $185-200. This is where Benchmade seems to have a “butterfly price premium”, meaning that they typically charge around 20% higher than their competitors for a comparable knife. The Paramiltary 2 is undoubtedly a harder use knife, far more capable in every way than the Bailout. It’s cheaper, has the same blade steel composition, but loses the world class warranty that Benchmade has. There have been many reports of Spyderco users breaking blades or other parts of the knife, and while reimbursement is a common offering from Spyderco, they don’t replace blades or do much in the way of repairs. Meanwhile, Benchmade has the “Lifesharp” service, where they’ll sharpen the blade for free for the life of the knife, and they also offer blade replacements for any knife they still produce, for a small fee. Benchmade has also been known to refinish or completely replace a worn out knife for a user who sends it in for sharpening or service.
The Benchmade Bailout is a great knife. It has a style all it’s own, using quality materials and modern technology. Benchmade is continuing the popularity of the Bugout into another closely related knife, that carries like a dream, but has the capability to be used for just about anything. This is a knife that begs to be used, but hides away in the pocket akin to a writing pen, gets used, and put away quickly without overthinking it. It may feel a little thin in the handle for those with larger hands, but it’s still quite usable for just about any EDC task. Benchmade continues their premium pricing for comparable materials, but their warranty is built in to that cost, and this US company continues their legacy with another hit in their lineup.
- Easy to use, easy to carry. Premium materials, fidget friendly, great feature set.
- Can be slim for some hands, priced slightly high.