SOG is a familiar name to knife aficionados as well as those that frequent sporting-goods stores. Like some other large brands (Gerber and Kershaw come to mind) SOG for many years focused on volume and affordability in order to get their products on shelves in big box stores like Dick’s Sporting Goods. This has sometimes been to the detriment of the quality and desirability of their products.
While some of their knives have become iconic – like the Nutnfancy-approved Flash I and Twitch II along with the excellent Seal Pup Elite fixed blade, a lot of their products have had the feeling of upgraded gas station knives rather than legitimate cutlery to them. The only SOG product I’ve reviewed – the Spec Arc – was one of the few knives I could say I actually hated.
So when I started hearing that SOG had come out with a new folding knife, called the Terminus XR, that multiple people whose opinions I value highly said was “excellent” I felt an equal amount of curiosity and disbelief. (I’m referring to Tony Sculimbrene at Everyday Commentary and YouTube celeb Nick Shabazz.)
And on paper, the Terminus XR seems like a compelling alternative in the sweet spot of the EDC pocket knife market – at about $70 retail and packing interesting features and high end materials, the new knife seems like it could be a comeback story for SOG in the way the shockingly well-received Fastball has been for Gerber.
Key Specs: SOG Terminus XR
The Terminus XR we tested is the original version with carbon fiber laminate G10 handle scales and a satin-finished CTS-BDZ1 blade. Since the Terminus debuted in 2018, two more versions have debuted – red and green G10 handled models with stonewashed D2 blades that are exclusive to KnifeCenter, which come in a solid $20 cheaper than the original.
SOG has always excelled at making accurately-ground blades, but until recently they’ve used a lot of mediocre steel. The Terminus XR uses a new steel from Carpenter Technology called CTS-BDZ1. There’s some confusion in regards to this steel and two other similarly named steels from Carpenter, CTS-BD1 and CTS-BD1N.
While the name are all very similar the steels have some differences: BDZ1 has the lowest carbon content of the three (the primary factor in edge retention, wear resistance and hardness) at 0.6-0.75% (versus 0.9 for BD1 and 0.8-0.95 for BD1N.) It also has the least chromium at 12.5% which determines corrosion resistance and wear resistance – but lower chromium means higher toughness. BDZ1 has the highest Molybdenum content at 0.75% which increases strength and carbide formation. Interestingly, BDZ1’s composition is identical to BD1N in terms of manganese, silicone and trace elements of phosphorus and sulfur.
To put it into more relatable terms, BDZ1 is similar performance-wise and production-wise to Sandvik 14C28N – it has similar carbon (0.60-0.75 vs 0.62 for Sandvik) and chromium (12.5-13.5 vs 14) but it has higher molybdenum, manganese and silicon even if it lacks the dash of nitrogen 14C28N includes. Maximum working hardness for 14C28N is slightly higher at 62hrc versus 60 for BDZ1 but few makers run Sandvik that hard in the first place. In the real world the two steels will perform similarly.
In comparison to the new lower-priced versions of the Terminus XR which have D2 steel, BDZ1 has lower carbon content (actually around half, 0.60-0.75 versus 1.5-1.6 for AISI D2) but higher chromium content (12.5-13.5 versus around 11) which means it’s more corrosion and stain resistant. It will also be easier to sharpen.
The blade itself on the Terminus is just beautiful, especially for the price point. It’s reasonably sized – 3.00” long with a 2.75” cutting edge, cut from reasonably thin 0.11” blade stock. Blade shape is a hybrid of a drop point and a clip point with a high flat grind and a pronounced swedge on the spine. It’s really visually striking with a grinder satin finish that’s vertical on the primary bevel and horizontal on the flats, giving a nice contrast.
It does suffer from a poorly terminated sharpening choil, with a touch of beard at the far end of the sharpened edge, but nothing to pick up your torches and pitchforks over. The blade also includes a flipper tab and a pair of symmetrical thumb studs for opening. Overall, the shape and grind of the knife is ideal for everyday cutting tasks – the mid height drop point shape makes it easy to control the tip and it’s ground thin enough to do light food prep without destroying what you’re cutting. Some real thought went into making this a useful blade and it shows. It’s also gorgeous to look at.
Deployment & Lockup
Okay, here’s where things get remarkable. To bring up another brand in this review, let’s talk about Benchmade. Benchmade has held a “patent for innovation” on the AXIS lock since 1996. That patent expired twenty years after it was issued in 2016. So while Benchmade still owns the trademark for the term AXIS lock, they no longer hold an exclusive patent on the functionality. Since then, several brands have come out with their own interpretation of the AXIS lock – whereas previous iterations on the idea had to be functionally different, like SOG’s “Arc Lock” or Spyderco’s Ball Bearing lock, now the actual concept of a bar that travels in a straight line to lock the blade in place is open.
Enter the XR lock, which for all intents and purposes functions like an AXIS lock but has a different name. Well, that’s not correct to say. It actually works better than an Axis lock. Benchmade has had more than 20 years to make an AXIS lock with any noticeable detent strength for use as a flipper, and have never gotten there. Remember the Benchmade 300 series flipper? Awful. But with their first step out of the gate, SOG has made an Axis lock flipper that actually works how it should. Can we throw them a party?
How does it work? Well, for one thing, the Terminus XR flips on caged ball bearings. You wouldn’t know this from looking at SOG’s website, which never mentions it – very odd! Since the XR lock bar (we’ll call it that) serves as the detent, the strength of the detent is based entirely on the shape of the cutout in the blade tang at closed position, with a very sharp angle for the bar to climb out of before it will open. The angle of the ramp creates a strong bias towards closed that when overcome fires the blade out reliably. It’s somewhat similar in concept to one of my other favorite flippers, the Buck Marksman – once it overcomes the detent there’s no actual friction on the blade until it locks open, so it seems supernaturally smooth.
You have three options for opening the Terminus XR. Like an AXIS lock knife, you can pull the lock back and snap the knife open with your wrist. You will occasionally get a “bounce back” with this technique because of the low-friction nature of the ball bearings, but it’s fairly rare. You can also use the thumb studs, probably the least successful of the three methods – the thumb studs are set too close to the handle to get a comfortable purchase on them, and they’re a bit too tall and pointy.
Finally, there is a flipper tab that works push-button style (an inward and downward push to build tension) that opens the blade reliably. Closing is a matter of pulling back on the lock and giving an inward flick- the blade doesn’t normally bounce back out of the closed position due to the shape of the cutout that creates the detent. Lockup on my knife was solid – no vertical blade play (normally an issue with an axis lock) and barely perceptible horizontal play. The jimping on the flipper tab is too sharp, but you can fix this with a piece of sandpaper in a minute or two.
Features, Fit & Finish
The Terminus XR is loaded with features, the most interesting of which is the aforementioned three-way opening system via the XR lock setup. Having a choice between thumb studs and a flipper is nice. What’s also nice are the handle scales- they’re carbon fiber-laminated G10, with a thick layer of CF bonded atop black G10. The carbon fiber is cut away in diagonal stripes to emphasize grip, and the edges of the handles are contoured all the way around for a comfortable feel in hand. Of note: some pictures of the Terminus XR online have a large “SOG” logo cut out of the carbon fiber near the tail end of the scales – the knives do not have this in real life (thankfully.)
The XR lock uses a set of plastic stepped thumb ramps on top of the XR lock bar – rather than most Benchmades where you access the bar directly, the thumb ramps on the Terminus protrude from the scales enough that it’s easier to access the lock bar, at least in my opinion. They’re similar in shape to sliding triggers like you’d find on some OTF automatics, and the machined steps mean you get solid traction on them.
Fit and Finish on the Terminus is really very good. The blade itself is gorgeous – it has a grinder satin finish with a vertical pattern on the primary bevel and a perpendicular horizontal pattern. Markings are laser etched with “SOG Terminus XR” on one side and “Cryo CTS-BDZ1” on the other, along with SOG’s mascot, the grinning skull in a beret that comes from SOG’s namesake, the MACV-SOG special operations groups that was active during the Vietnam war. The edge on the Terminus was excellent from the factory – one thing SOG is quite good at is clean, symmetrical edge grinds.
Construction on the SOG is complex – it has skeletonized painted stainless liners underneath those G10 scales, and the omega springs for the lock bar sit between the liners and the scales – anchored to the liners – with a dab of grease to prevent rattle. Be careful when you disassemble the Terminus, as the omega springs can go flying off into oblivion if you’re not holding them securely.
The ball bearings are captive style, stainless steel held in a plastic cartridge so you don’t have to worry about them rolling away when you’re disassembling – and there’s a pair of stainless washers that the bearings interact with on the outside so they don’t wear the liners down. The female side of the pivot pin is D-shaped so it’s keyed to the liners to prevent it from turning, and the stop pin is external and is mounted to the liners.
My main complaint with the Terminus XR is the pocket clip – it appears to the same one used on the Spec Arc I reviewed previously. I hated that clip there, and I still hate it here. It’s a big billboard of a clip – the SOG logo displayed in large font to let everyone know you’ve got a knife in your pocket, which is probably cool in Texas but asking for arrest in New York. It’s deep carry and fits in a slot in the butt of the knife, configurable for left or right handed tip up carry.
We have to talk about this clip, because it’s the proverbial turd in the punch bowl of what is otherwise an excellent knife. It’s just bad in every way a pocket clip can be bad. It’s wide and short, so it doesn’t hold a pocket very well. The entry angle of the clip is too obtuse so it tends to grab car doors and paint and any solid objects you’re passing near. It’s ugly, and that’s just a matter of opinion – I don’t like huge branding on the clip. It’s overly tight so it’s hard to get into your pocket, even though it tends to pendulum around once it’s in there.
The large loop on the top where it curves around to go into the handle leaves enough space for the knife to “submerge” and shove the hem of your pocket into the top, making the knife particularly hard to get out. It’s painted and starts to look worn almost immediately. It’s easy to catch and bend on things, and even with the single mounting screw that locates it tightened down as hard as I’m comfortable tightening a long thin T6 screw, the clip still moves left and right. It’s wide enough and pokes out enough that it becomes a bit of a hot spot in your palm after a while. If SOG just bolted this clip to the side of the scales with two screws and made it less “shouty” it would be excellent. As it is now, the clip makes carrying this knife irritating. I don’t normally have this strong of an opinion on a clip but it’s really awful.
The knife is a little wide from scale-to-scale (0.45” across) which makes it feel great in hand and also feel chunky in the pocket. This is just a tradeoff- the more it fills your hand, the more it fills up your pocket. It’s fairly light at 3.32 ounces – for a 7” overall knife with the complex lock and a pair of stainless liners that’s not a bad number even if it’s under the 1:1 blade to weight ratio that Anthony Sculimbrene references in a lot of his reviews.
The tradeoff for this “chunkiness” is great ergonomics in hand. The Terminus XR has the right kind of neutral ergonomics – it’s secure without forcing your hand into a certain position. The handle swells towards the palm and has a slight “kick” at the tail to hold your pinky, while the flipper tab and handle scales form a finger guard at the front. The contoured scales are excellent in the same way the Spyderco Shaman is excellent – it feels robust without feeling stocky, like it’s already spent ten years in your pocket getting smoothed out. The Terminus XR is the knife equivalent of a well-worn baseball glove.
The blade shape and size is ideal for EDC tasks – I’ve used it for everything from opening and breaking down boxes to cutting up food, and it’s handy for all of it. The drop point blade shape is super ubiquitous in the EDC market, but with good reason – it’s the most useful blade shape. It can roll cut, pierce, slice, it can do it all. I’m not an expert metallurgist, but I like CTS-BDZ1. It holds an edge longer in normal use than 8Cr or AUS8, seeming more like 14C28N or 154CM in terms of retention. It’s pretty easy to sharpen, too. I haven’t noticed any corrosion or discoloration after several months of use.
The lock is great, too. The fidget factor is high, like most axis-lock style knives, and having a lock that keeps your fingers out of the path of the blade when you close it is always safer and more reassuring in use. The only criticism I have here is that the jimping on the flipper tab is too sharp, chewing up the pad of your forefinger if you’re a compulsive flipper. I found after a few weeks that the pivot screw had backed off a bit creating a touch of horizontal blade play, which was easy to fix and isn’t unusual – and thankfully SOG doesn’t apply any threadlocker to the screws here. I’d rather deal with adjusting a pivot than having a stripped out screw from overzealous threadlocker application.
The Terminus XR is a good deal at $70 retail. It seems to be a solid $20 cheaper than other big-name brand knives that compete with it in terms of materials and quality, and it’s a solid “yes” if you’re looking for a good EDC knife under $100 around 3”.
The Spyderco Para 3 lightweight retails for ~$90 and also has a 3” blade and an unconventional lock – the well-loved Compression Lock. It’s lighter than the Terminus – 2.4 ounces – and it has a way better pocket clip, the unique deep carry wire clip that you can use left or right handed tip up. The action isn’t as good as the Terminus and I think the ergonomics of the SOG are better, even though the Para 3 has a forward finger choil – it feels a little thin in hand. Both are excellent knives with minor flaws but neither will let you down for EDC use.
Of course, we have to include a Benchmade – and the most equal comparison is the plain-jane Mini Griptilian. It’s recently undergone a steel upgrade for the base model (from 154CM to CPM S30V) and of course received a commensurate bump in base price. Now starting at ~$95 retail (and I remember buying one ten years ago for half of that!), the smaller Griptilian offers you a choice of a flat ground drop point with a thumb stud or a hollow grind sheepsfoot blade with a thumb hole – both with 2.91” blades, textured Noryl GTX polymer handles, and Benchmade’s famous AXIS lock. Personally, I like the SOG better on all counts except for the pocket clip – but the quality, simplicity, and usability of the Mini Grip cannot be ignored. You won’t ever regret buying one, even if it’s not the most exciting thing in the world.
If you can tolerate (or enjoy, I won’t judge) an assisted opening knife, the Kershaw Dividend in M390 offers crazy value for money. It has anodized aluminum handles, flipper opening with Kershaw’s SpeedSafe mechanism, a trusty liner lock, and a stonewashed 3” wharncliffe blade in Bohler M390 steel. It’s also tapped for four-position carry (unusual these days) and weighs in at a scant 2.95 ounces. It’s a rare opportunity to get a domestic-made knife with modern supersteel for only $80.
WE Knives has been making waves with their recent addition of the Civivi budget line, which has started bringing the heat to the affordable market. The Elementum is really compelling; for $50 retail you get a hollow ground 3” drop point blade made from D2 steel, a bearing pivot flipper action that’s up to par with full-fat WE Knives, and a choice of a few handle materials as well as a really pretty Damascus blade model. Grey or Black G10 handles are only $50 while upgrading to Rosewood or Ebony wood handles is ~$65, and the CF/Damascus model is somehow only $89. All Elementums come with a bent steel deep carry pocket clip that’s right hand tip up only, and they’re classy and useful in equal measure.
Finally, the excellent new Gerber Fastball is worth considering. It’s a little pricey for what you get (around $100 depending on versions) but it is a US-made manual bearing pivot flipper with S30V steel. It’s reminiscent of the Kershaw Leek in profile, but with a 3” modified wharncliffe blade shape with a low flat grind that puts more strength behind the tip – the classic problem with the Leek. This is Gerber’s first bearing pivot manual flipper and they’ve got the action fairly well dialed in. It’s a no-nonsense kind of EDC option, plagued by occasional QC issues but overall a great user.
I’ve tried out a lot of SOG knives before, and I’ve universally hated them for one reason or another. Knives are a largely subjective subject but I’ve just never gelled with a single one, from the Twitch and Aegis to the pricey Spec Arc. They always seemed like more marketing and hype than actual substance and design to me, a veneer of military badassery over a poorly designed and built product.
The Terminus XR is a relieving about-face from this version of SOG I’ve known for so long. It’s apparently not over yet, with the upcoming Seal XR – a folding version of the well-known Seal Pup fixed blade – putting the same lock setup on a big beefy 3.9” clip point blade from CPM S35VN. If this is the future of SOG’s products, then consider me interested. The knife is excellent, really only marred by the awful clip. Everything else is a matter of preference. The Terminus XR is a truly excellent EDC knife at a reasonable price, and it certainly gets my seal of approval.
- A bearing pivot “Axis lock” flipper with an actual detent that works properly, reasonable pricing, good quality, beautiful blade finish, “just right size” for EDC use
- The world’s worst pocket clip, a little thick in the pocket, flipper tab jimping a bit aggressive.