One question knife enthusiasts should pose to themselves is “what’s the one knife you’d actually keep if you gradually lost interest in knives as a hobby and just needed one good knife to cut things open?” Good question! It’s the Spyderco Para 3 Lightweight.
Key Specs: Spyderco Para 3 Lightweight
The Para 3 Lightweight is a slimmed down version of the G10 Para 3 we reviewed in 2018 which I wasn’t exactly in love with. Most of the real differences are in the handle, but the profile of the blade itself is pretty much identical. That means it sports the same uber-practical 3” clip point blade shape as the original model. It features a full flat grind cut from 0.14” thick blade stock, with a smooth satin finish. The plunge line that separates the primary grind from the ricasso has a smooth curve to it and intersects the usual Spyderco thumb hole opener.
The edge of the Para 3 has a long continuous curve with a small straight portion towards the inside. The clip point blade shape means the spine is straight and the edge is curved, leaving the tip slightly upwards and lined up almost perfectly with the pivot point of the blade. The blade of the Para 3 includes both a pronounced thumb ramp and a 50/50 forward finger choil with fine jimping for a solid grip.
The difference between the standard Para 3 and the Para 3 Lightweight blades is the steel – while the original G10 Para 3 used CPM S30V steel, the Lightweight uses Carpenter CTS-BD1N steel. Spyderco has already used BD1N in the UK Penknife series of slipjoints, but the adoption of this uncommon steel to the Para 3 Lightweight was unusual.
BD1N is a nitrogen-enriched variant of CTS-BD1, made to allow higher working hardness than its simpler brother – Carpenter states 60-63 HRC. It has similar carbon content to BD1 (around 0.9%) and chromium (15-17%) but has increased amounts of manganese, molybdenum and silicon as well as 0.15% Nitrogen which functions similarly to carbon while also increasing corrosion resistance. BD1N is a relatively unknown steel, but the performance upgrades from BD1 put it above other common steels like VG-10 and 154CM in terms of performance, even if it won’t hold an edge as well as CPM S30V as used on the standard Para3.
Deployment and Lockup
One thing I never had an issue with the standard Para 3 was deployment and lockup. Like its larger brother the PM2, the Para 3 and Para 3 lightweight utilize the Spyderco round hole thumb opener. It doesn’t have the panache and flair of a flipper, but in day to day use it’s the opening method I prefer over any other by a large margin, for a number of reasons. It’s flexible- you can use your thumb or your index or middle fingers to open the blade. It has sufficient detent to snap open without a wrist flick but not so much that you can’t roll the blade open slowly when the situation dictates it.
You can also hold the lock open and flick the blade out with your wrist if you prefer, or any other number of unnecessary tricks. Compression lock thumb hole knives are like fidget spinners for adults. Also, the lack of a thumb stud or any other protrusion means your opening device never gets in the way of what you’re cutting. And the shape of the thumb hole on the blade creates a natural thumb ramp which is a boon to ergonomics.
The lock is as brilliant as it’s always been. For the Lightweight, Spyderco switched from G10 over nested stainless liners to textured FRN scales, and the materials for the lock themselves have been minimized as much as possible- the lockbar insert is the only metal in the handle, other than the external stop pin. It works similarly to a liner lock but the lock bar wedges itself between the blade and the stop pin in the open position, rather than just on the blade tang itself like a liner lock does.
It’s arguably the best lock design: it’s extremely secure, it’s easy to operate and it keeps your finger out of the path of the blade when you’re unlocking it so it’s safe, and it doesn’t rely on a bunch of moving parts and springs like an Axis Lock or others which inevitably break. It’s also extremely fidget friendly, for what it’s worth. One thing the Lightweight is not: as nice as the regular Para 3 in terms of action. If you want it to free-drop when you open the lock, you’ll need to accept a smidge of horizontal blade play. We’ll get into why in the next section.
Features, Fit & Finish
The lightweight Para 3 drops an entire ounce off the original G10 model despite keep the same dimensions – 3” blade, 7.27” overall length, same blade thickness and handle thickness – so how does it cut 29.5% of its mass? Primarily with the switch from G10 and full stainless liners over to FRN. It also cleverly combines things that would be multiple pieces into single structures as well. The standoffs that space out the rear of the handles are integral to the handle scales, as is the lanyard tube.
Spyderco skips a steel liner on the show side handle entirely, as well as a show-side washer: the Para 3 LW only has a phosphor bronze washer on the lock side where the blade rides against the stainless liner. The show side has a round raised section cast into the handle that acts as a washer. The sole body screw is a bolt-through affair which threads directly into the integrated threads on the show side scale. The pivot tube is also a bushing for the blade, and it’s prevented from spinning by fitting into a hex-shaped hole in the scales – a unique way to retain the pivot compared to the usual D-slot. Unlike the one-sided body screw, the stop pin is held in place on both sides with separate screws.
Another weight (and irritation) saving change on the Lightweight from the G10 Para 3 is the use of a deep-carry wire clip in place of a flat spoon clip. I say irritation-saving because they’ve corrected the major error with the design of the Para 3, the placement of the clip. On the original, the lanyard tube is at the very end of the knife and the clip is inboard from it, which makes the clip an irritating hot spot when in use – for the benefit of the lanyard tube which hardly anyone utilizes.
I always thought it was a strange design choice, and on the Para 3 Lightweight they’ve rectified it – the lanyard tube (or hole) is inboard of the pocket clip mounting point, leaving the bulk of the clip out of hand hotspot range. The deep carry design clip is held by a single screw, located in two slots, and is ambidextrous tip up carry only. Considering most fans of the original Para 3 say “it’s a great knife as soon as you buy a titanium MXG Gear deep carry clip for it!” you can consider the factory deep carry wire clip even more money saved.
The handles themselves are far more impressive than two slabs of molded plastic have any right to be. Beyond the neat functions on the inside (nested for the lock and liner slab, webbed for strength, a cast-in washer) the grip sides of the scales are excellent too – they have bi-directional texturing to give you a solid grip regardless of how you’re holding the knife, and the edges are much more contoured than the original, especially in the main finger grip region. The round Spyder logo in the center of the handle (with “Para 3” and “Spyderco” above and below) isn’t just decorative – it’s where the pocket clip contacts the handle, so it creates a smooth flat friction point allowing the knife to slide smoothly in and out of your pocket without destroying your jeans. There are no weird proprietary screws – they’re all button top Torx T6 or T8.
“So man, if like, a robber came up to you with an AK47 waving around and was like ‘bro give me all but one of your overpriced pocket knives, I’ll let you keep just one to use!’ which one would you keep?” I guess for me it’d be the Para 3 Lightweight. The Para 3 Lightweight is… let’s pick a good car metaphor. The Para 3 Lightweight is the V6 Accord sedan of knives. It’s all you need and nothing you don’t, with just the most reasonable cherry on the top. Every time you use it you’ll quietly marvel at how well it works, but no one is ever going to stop you in traffic to take a picture of your Accord. Or be blown away by the high tech hardware in your pocket – this is just a knife that quietly does everything right.
Let’s start with what a pocket knife does 95% of the time – sit in your pocket. At 2.4 ounces, the Para 3 Lightweight is just that – light. The Para 3 wasn’t exactly challenging the stamina of my belt, but the Lightweight is so light I’ve forgotten it in my pants pocket at the end of the day. It also doesn’t get in the way, despite the hump from the thumb hole. The wire clip is the definition of a perfect clip – it doesn’t snag going in or out of the pocket, but it has just the right amount of tension to never migrate. It also carries the knife super deep, but the textured grip on the scales makes it easy to grab it. Simple, elegant, effective.
Does it cut? Of course it cuts! The blade shape and profile is pure practicality. Compound ground tantos with fullers and false swedges look super dope on Instagram; a full flat ground clip point just cuts things well. It will pierce, slice, roll cut, dig, and split your Bojangles biscuit when they forget to put one in the bag again. The 0.14” blade stock is slightly thick for the size and length of the blade, but if you want more of a slicer and less of an everyday use knife the lightweight Chaparral is a good alternative – you won’t accidentally break the tip off the Para 3 Lightweight unless you do something remarkably stupid. Use a pry bar to open paint cans!
This is the first knife I’ve carried with BD1N – I’ve used BD1 and BDZ1 (in the excellent SOG Terminus XR) so this nitrogen-enriched variant acquaints itself well in comparison, going longer between needing sharpening than the softer BDZ1 in the Terminus or BD1 in the James Brand Folsom. The edge is prone to rolling more than chipping, which is preferable between the two – it’s much easier to fix on a sharpener. This isn’t some hitherto undiscovered secret supersteel, but it works well for a knife you actually use, and it’s quite corrosion resistant as well. I do wish it held an edge longer, but steel hardness is always a balance.
The ergonomics of the knife are sublime, better than the full sized Paramilitary 2 and similarly great to the Manix 2. You can get a full four-finger grip on the handle in the rearward position, with the trailing edge of the forward choil providing an effective finger guard. The forward choil itself works well, with the jimping on the blade tang and on the thumb ramp providing solid traction in a pinch grip. The contoured edge of the handle on the underside is an improvement over the original Para 3, which always felt a bit sharp, and the rounded edge around the lock access cutout feels nice as well. Moving the clip towards the butt of the handle and swapping position with the lanyard hole fixes the primary issue I had with the G10 Para 3: the uncomfortable hot spot in your palm when you grab it. And despite the lack of full stainless liners under it FRN skin, the Lightweight never feels flimsy like the Bugout tends to.
The long story short is that the Para 3 Lightweight is a joy to hold and use. It gets all the important details right.
All these knives available at BladeHQ.There’s no shortage of knives in the 3” blade $100 market, but the tough thing is that Spyderco makes a lot of them. Internal competition is numerous.
The Chaparral FRN is about the same price – at the time of writing it retails for $95, but Spyderco did just increase prices across the board again for 2020. It has a higher-performance steel (CTS-XHP) and is even lighter (2.00 ounces) but it’s also a bit smaller overall, sporting a 2.8” blade and 6.4” overall length. It’s full flat ground drop point leans more towards slicing performance than day to day use thanks to an extremely thin 0.08” blade thickness, and it has a traditional lockback versus the Para 3’s compression lock. My nod goes towards the more well-rounded Para 3 Lightweight, but the Chaparral has merit.
There’s also the classic Delica 4 FRN, in standard VG-10 (84) or high performance ZDP-189 ($119) which is excellent in a vacuum, but outdated and overpriced compared to the excellent Para 3 Lightweight. It lacks a forward choil, deep carry clip, compression lock, wire clip, and VG-10 is less impressive in edge retention than BD1N. The Native V Lightweight is also comparable, with a 3” full flat ground drop point blade in CPM S30V and grippy FRN handle scales. It’s shorter overall (6.875”) and about the same weight (2.45oz) but uses a backlock. It’s slightly more expensive at $105 but the steel will hold an edge longer than the BD1N will.
From Benchmade, the two closest competitors are the Mini-Griptilian and the Bugout. The Mini-Grip is now officially over $100 for a basic variant, but it also recently upgraded the standard blade steel from 154CM to CPM-S30V to justify the price increase. It still uses the excellent Axis lock, which isn’t quite as exclusive since the patent expired and several other brands are releasing their own variants on the concept, but the knife stands up on its own merits anyway. It has a 2.91” blade in both the drop point (thumb stud) and sheepsfoot (thumb hole, hollow ground) variants, which are priced identically. The Para 3 Lightweight is only marginally lighter than the standard Mini-Grip, which weighs 2.6 ounces, but I do prefer the Spyderco’s deep carry wire clip versus the Benchmade’s painted steel arrow clip.
The Bugout has recently been stealing a lot of the thunder from Benchmade’s other offerings, and it’s compelling. It weighs in at a barely noticeable 1.85 ounces, despite packing a 3.25” blade and 7.5” overall length. That’s because it has razor-thin Grivory handles with no liners – this isn’t a knife to baton through a car with, with noticeable flex when pinching the handles together. It has a shrunken version of the AXIS lock and simple thumb-stud opening action, and comes standard with a deep carry clip. It’s not as beefy as the Griptilian, but it fits in a pocket better. It comes with S30V standard, but it’s also spendier than both the Mini-Grip and the Para 3 Lightweight at $127 retail.
I carried the Para 3 Lightweight for review around the same time I was using the Gerber Fastball, and it’s another domestic-made option in the same size and price range – which is odd to say about a Gerber. It’s definitely more fidget-friendly, with a super snappy flipper action thanks to a ball bearing pivot. It has anodized aluminum handles versus the Para 3’s textured FRN, so it’s heavier at 2.8 ounces – but still very light and pocketable. My main issue with the Fastball was quality control rather than design or performance, and it offers a uniquely useful blade shape in S30V for $100.
The Spyderco Para 3 Lightweight is excellent and satisfying, but not exactly shocking. Spyderco has always been a company that’s about iteration, not revolution. So the Military begat the mid-sized Paramilitary, which spawned the improved Paramilitary 2 which gave rise to the smaller Para 3, which was pared down to the Para 3 Lightweight – sausages of different lengths, they’d say (about BMW’s, at least.) It wasn’t as though you could hear a legion of jaws drop when the Para 3 Lightweight came out, it was just another variant on a familiar theme. With this though, I truly think Spyderco has mastered the mid-sized pocket knife for EDC use.
Lots of knives get close, and even lots of Spydercos get close, but this is a knife that does everything right. It’s so correct that it’s almost boring. Its light, carries well, has ideal blade geometry, excellent grip, it’s affordable, simple yet brilliant. If I think the Para 3 Lightweight was wanting for anything, it’s a better blade steel – and this being Spyderco, there will be piles of sprint runs and upgraded versions in the future – there’s already been a DLT Trading exclusive with red handles and M390 steel. Sometimes I carry other knives because I want a little spice in my life (and that’s not a crime!) but if I really lost interest in knives and was only going to keep one to cut things with – it would be this.
Which creates a conundrum: the Para 3 Lightweight is so great it makes you lose interest in other knives. Whether that’s good or bad isn’t for me to decide. But it’s certainly an accomplishment.
- The perfected form of the everyday carry pocket knife: light, slim, great lock, excellent clip and carry, ideal blade shape and geometry, excellent action, perfected ergonomics
- Could use a blade steel that holds an edge longer, tough to balance blade play with action, may make you lose interest in knives in general