Doing a “best of” for a brand like Spyderco is a uniquely difficult challenge – we could easily list 15-20 knives here in a lengthy tribute to Colorado’s most famous purveyor of cutlery. The brand, under the direction of the inimitable Sal Glesser, has grown from a fringe purveyor of odd knives to one of the most dominant names in the field of cutlery, with an impressively wide array of products to suit nearly every budget and purpose – and that’s not even including the budget Byrd brand or Randall knives.
Best Spyderco Knives: Summary
- Spyderco Paramilitary 2
- Spyderco Manix 2
- Spyderco Delica
- Spyderco Native
- Spyderco Tenacious
- Spyderco Sage
- Spyderco Chaparral
- Spyderco Dragonfly
- Spyderco Slysz Bowie
- Spyderco Nirvana
Spyderco recently celebrated their 40th Anniversary in the form of this wild contoured, fluted carbon fiber Native V with a DS93x Damasteel blade. Hell of a party it is, and it’s crazy to think Spyderco has been providing knives that are long on function and (to some eyes) short on form for four decades now. They’re the type of knives that non-enthusiasts don’t understand until they actually get them in hand and use them, with natural ergonomics, strong locks, smooth actions, and a dedication to high-end and exotic blade steels keeping enthusiasts coming back for more year after year. Here’s our favorite Spyderco knives currently available at the time of writing.
So much has been said and written about the Paramilitary 2 that it’s difficult to sum up this knife without restating clichés that have already been digested by thousands of knife fans. Simply put, the Spyderco Paramilitary 2 is arguably one of the best everyday carry-oriented pocket knives ever made. Some will argue that the Manix 2 or Benchmade’s 940 series fill this role better, but the nice thing about knives is that no one’s opinion is wrong. I fall evenly down the middle between the Paramilitary 2 and the Manix 2 depending on my mood, and both are absolutely fantastic.
The PM2 (as most people refer to it) is an evolution of the original Paramilitary, itself a smaller derivative of the full-sized Military. While the Millie sports a huge 4” blade and a long 9.50” overall length, the PM2 is more manageable coming in just under a 3.5” blade and 8.3” overall. Differences versus the original include a four way clip, flush screws, a reshaped tang that doesn’t protrude from the handle when closed, a slightly longer blade, and a mild reshaping of the handle. All PM2’s use Spyderco’s compression lock, which is similar in concept to a locking liner but accessed from the spine instead of the belly of the handle, taking your fingers out of the cutting path when closing the knife. Our guide to lock types tell you everything you need to know about this and other locking mechanisms.
The blade is a clip point with a profile that’s nearly instantly recognizable to knife fans – a totally straight spine with a constant curve of the sharpened edge up to the tip. It’s full flat ground for maximum slicing performance, with a beautiful satin finish. Standard blade steel is CPM S30V but you can also opt for CPM S110V with “blurple” handles and now even in glorious Maxamet both as production models for a little extra dosh. Standard PM2’s come with either black or digicam handles and a satin or black DLC blade finish. Of course there have been a staggering array of sprint run PM2’s or commissioned ‘exclusives’ in various different steels – Elmax, S35VN, S90V, M4, and now M390 just to name a handful. Due to the limited nature of sprint runs, the price in the header only applies to the full-production S30V and S110V versions.
Ergonomics are the name of the game with the PM2. It’s a knife that immediately feels at home in the hand, there’s just no learning curve to it. It offers solid forward and rearward grip with a nice 50/50 choil, easy blade opening and closing with the compression lock, a slick feel in hand with textured G10 and flush screws, easy opening thanks to the oversized thumb hole – there’s everything you need and nothing you don’t. Without doubt one of the greatest EDC knives in the world. Spyderco also released the Para 3, a kind of sub-3” “shrunken” variant of the PM2 that we weren’t overwhelmingly fond of – but has sold very well by all accounts.
All this talk about the PM2 isn’t fair without mentioning its beefier counterpart. The Manix 2 is another supremely well-designed mid-size knife intended for EDC tasks. Like the PM2, the Manix 2 is a revision of an earlier design, but with more of a difference: the original Manix was a lockback, whereas the Manix 2 uses a caged ball bearing lock to secure the blade. Like the lockback it’s fully ambidextrous, but it’s much easier to manipulate one-handed and it’s not prone to vertical blade play from wear or lint build up. To make things confusing, they’ve brought back a lockback version of the Manix 2 for 2017.
Unlike the PM2 which only comes in one configuration (3.4” plain edge blade, G10 handles) the Manix 2 is actually a line of 3 distinct knives. The standard Manix 2 features G10 scales with full stainless liners and a 3.375” leaf-shaped blade (full flat ground, with an oversized thumb hole) in CPM S30V steel for a 5 ounce weight. The Manix 2 lightweight has the same blade but trades the lined G10 handle for a linerless FRCP (fiberglass reinforced co-polymer) handle as well as a lightweight wire clip for a weight reduction down to 3 ounces. All variants allow for ambidextrous tip up carry. Oh and if you want something bigger, there’s the powerhouse Manix 2 XL.
Being a mainstream Spyderco there is a head-spinning amount of special versions, starting with the full production S110V variants of the regular and the lightweight manix 2 with blue handles. The lightweight Manix is the bargain of the bunch at about $80 for the standard version in CTS-BD1, a good mid-range steel that’s easy to put a scary edge on and comes in a cool translucent blue or black handle. You can also get the lightweight Manix 2 in super-exotic Carpenter Maxamet Micro-Melt, which is a steel that’s so hard ZT gave up on using it halfway through a production run of high end knives to switch to M390. With a Rockwell hardness rating somewhere between 67-68, it’s easily the hardest steel you can get in a production knife, surpassing former top end steels like Hitach ZDP-189 and Bohler M390. It’s not particularly corrosion resistant and from anecdotal evidence it is terrible to sharpen, but you don’t buy a Lamborghini to get groceries and complain about the engine-out 30k service. There have been a slew of other sprint runs with different handles and steels as well.
All of the Manix 2 line features stellar ergonomics, with a more hand-filling form than the PM2 at the trade-off of taking up more real estate in the pocket from top to bottom. Like the PM2 it features a two-position grip with a deeply sculpted forward finger choil to allow the user to choke up on the blade, jimping in all the right places, and blade to handle geometry that puts the point slightly downward from the pivot, giving the user fantastic control. A real pleasure to use in any of its various forms.
The classic Spyderco shape. The Delica and its larger “brother” Endura have been around since 1990 in their original form, and they’ve undergone a number of evolutions and CQI improvements in the last 27 years, being in their fourth generation since 2006. This entry references both the Delica and the Endura because they’re the same knife proportionally, just different sizes. The Delica is the smaller of the two with a 2.9” blade and a 7.125” overall length, while the Endura’s blade is 3 ¾”. Both utilize FRN scales with “bi-directional texturing” for grip and skeletonized stainless liners for strength and weight reduction. They’re drilled for four-way carry and use a traditional lockback design with a Boye detent to prevent accidental release when gripping the handle.
The standard steel for both models is VG-10, a non-powdered stainless that holds a decent edge and is highly corrosion resistant. They’re available in saber ground and full flat ground versions, as well as with an optional Emerson Wave Opener that catches the corner of your pocket and pulls the knife open and locked as you draw it. There is also the option of upgrading to Hitachi ZDP-189 steel for both models, a super hard steel that’s still one of the highest performing on the market despite having been around for quite some time. While Spyderco has come out with some really captivating designs in the ensuing nearly 3 decades since these debuted, they’re still a great starting place for anyone looking to get into Spyderco and thanks to their light weight and pocketable dimensions they make excellent daily carry knives.
The Native wasn’t really a knife design destined for greatness, it just sort of ended up there. It was actually originally designed as a knife to be sold through big-box retailers like Wal-Mart, as a less-expensive alternative to the Delica, but over time has evolved an identity of its own. The name comes from the fact that the Native is entirely domestically produced, a rare feat these days.
In its current iteration the Native is in its fifth generation, which came out around 2012 to replace the long-running Native III. Differences are numerous, including a full-flat ground blade versus the III’s sabre grind, refined ergonomics, a four way carry clip, and an upgrade to CPM S35VN steel, turning it from an also-ran in Spyderco’s lineup to a true EDC star. Linerless construction on the FRN model makes it extremely lightweight, weighing in at only 2.45 ounces compared to the G10 models at a full two ounces heavier. Ergonomics are again the story here: a full forward choil allows a solid choked-up grip, and a run of jimping behind the thumb hole on the spine offers a secure grip. The Native isn’t a hard-use special, with 0.13” blade stock and a slicey full flat ground leaf shaped blade ideal for day to day tasks.
Like most other mainstream Spydercos the Native comes in a variety of configurations. The FRN version is available in standard S35VN steel, with a satin blade in plain edge, half serrated or fully serrated, as well as a black blade half or full serrated around $90. There’s also an upgraded CPM S110V model with a dark blue handle for $115, or if you want the latest greatest super steel the gray-handled Maxamet version rings in at a hefty $140 or so. The G10 versions are a little spendier, starting at about $130 for S35VN and $150 for S110V. Finally, there are a plethora of special edition Natives, including the stunning 40th Anniversary version with fluted 3D contoured carbon fiber handles and a beautiful Damascus blade made from DS93x Damasteel at $360 retail.
Note: there’s also the new Shaman which has just come out, which has a lot in common with the Native – like the overall profile – but has a larger 3.5” blade (available plain edge or serrated), contoured G10 handles, and most importantly a compression lock. It’s different enough to be considered a separate model but good enough to warrant inclusion on this list if initial impressions are right.
For many people, the Tenacious series of knives is their introduction to Spyderco – and the start of a fairly expensive habit for some. It’s actually part of a line of “value” folders made by an unnamed OEM in China for Spyderco, which are similar in design but different in size. There’s the miniscule 2.25” Ambitious, the 2.75” Persistence, and the big 4” Resilience – with the “just right” 3.4” Tenacious right in the middle. All of the Tenacious line knives use the same materials and design: textured G10 scales over stainless liners, a liner lock, a four way clip, phosphor bronze washers, and a drop point blade in 8Cr13MoV steel.
For a lot of people, the Tenacious is the “just right” affordable EDC folder, competing with the likes of the Ontario RAT, Kershaw Leek, Buck Vantage, and CRKT M16 for mainstream appeal at an affordable price. It’s not hard to see why it sucks people in: it offers a lot of the things that make a Spyderco a Spyderco without making you shell out hundreds of dollars. The blade, of course, is a model of practicality: a full flat ground drop point shape does a little bit of everything well, the thumb-hole opener draws your eye and quickly becomes the natural way to open a knife, the bronze washers make for a smooth deployment, and at under a half-inch thick the Tenacious carries well. For a lot of people it’s the first step between throwing away your gas station knife and your family staging an intervention because you’ve blown your kid’s college savings on buying every version of the Paramilitary 2.
There are some choices when it comes to versions of the Tenacious. Standard is black G10 with a satin finish blade, with a choice of plain edge, part and full serrated. There’s also the option of a black coated blade, and there’s a number of different handle colors available from various retailers including checkered red, bright blue, tan, camouflage, and even a carbon fiber laminate.
The Sage series is a unique concept: a series of knives where the blade is identical, the overall shape of the knife is the same among iterations, but each version uses a different lock type to celebrate the innovation and creativity of various knife makers who’ve changed the landscape of the industry over the years. Spyderco’s been making the Sage for a while now and is currently in its fifth iteration, although some earlier versions of the sage are still readily available – primarily the Sage 1 & 2.
As far as the basics, the Sage is a supremely useful day-to-day knife regardless of which lock type it uses. The Sage is a perfect mid-sizer with a 3” spear point blade and a 4” handle, making it shorter than a PM2 or Manix 2 but longer than a Delica, and incorporates a 50/50 forward choil to allow the user to choke up on the handle. All versions of the Sage are made with CPM S30V stainless steel, which offers a durable edge and reliable corrosion resistance.
As mentioned, each version offers a unique lock as well as different handle materials and design. The original Sage uses a Michael Walker-designed liner lock combined with carbon fiber-laminate G10 handle scales and weighs a scant 3.2 ounces. These same scales are also used on the newest Sage 5, which features Spyderco’s unique compression lock. Sage 2 pays homage to Chris Reeve’s sturdy Integral Lock – commonly referred to as a frame lock – with a slightly contoured titanium frame. The Sage 3 used the Bolt Action lock, accredited to Blackie Collins, in either a checkered carbon fiber laminate or a bright blue G10 handle option.
The Sage 4 was a bit of a departure from the modern/tactical looking Sage line, with Arizona Ironwood scales and titanium bolsters. It uses a backlock, credited to Al Mar who moved the location of the lock bar from the end of the handle up to the middle for easier access and stronger lockup. All versions of the Sage use Spyderco’s excellent deep carry wire clip configured for ambidextrous tip down carry. It’s a cool concept: if you like the knife, pick the lock you want. Personally, I’ll take all 5.
The Chaparral is named after a bush. Exciting, right? Or in Spyderco’s much more eloquent words, the Chaparral is “…a shrub native to the Western United States with the unique ability to perennially survive, revive and regenerate after being destroyed by drought or fire.” Okay, that makes a little more sense. It’s a series of recurring knives that use the same overall shape (“pattern” in traditional parlance) and blade but showcases a variety of different handle materials and construction techniques.
The basics of the Chaparral make it an excellent gentleman’s knife, but absolutely not a hard-use one. The blade is a full flat ground drop point that measures a scant 0.08” thick, one of the thinnest blades on a modern folding knife which makes for exemplary slicing performance. Hell, there are probably Medfords with thicker blades than the Chaparral’s handle (0.34”) – it’s a supremely slim, light knife ideal for pocket carry. Blade steel is Carpenter CTS-XHP, a powdered stainless high-end steel. The blade is 2.81” long and includes a forward choil. All versions of the Chaparral use a backlock.
Handle materials and price vary widely. The “basic” Chaparral has carbon fiber laminated G10 handles and a 2.5 ounce weight for a pretty reasonable $125. A new version will be available soon with lightweight bi-directional textured FRN handles and nested stainless skeletonized liners for strength, while still weighing only 2 ounces. The price drops even further to ~$80 on this user-oriented model which is bound to be a hit with the Spyderco community. There’s also the recently Raffir Noble variant of the Chaparral, made with a unique scale material that is layers of brass and bronze mesh suspended in epoxy resin. It’s almost impossible to properly capture it in photos, but it looks incredibly cool in person. This isn’t a bad buy at ~$120 retail either, and it features contoured handle scales unlike the other models.
The titanium handled versions of the Chaparral are considerably more expensive. The flat titanium version is about $190 and has a geometric square pattern vaguely visible. The “stepped titanium” models are a hefty $340 retail a piece, supposedly being one of Spyderco’s most expensive to manufacture knives because of the extreme amount of machining involved with the intricately 3D-textured handles. All versions of the Chaparral provide something that’s altogether uncommon in this day and age: a slim, light, simple gentleman’s knife that cuts exceptionally well and doesn’t even pretend to be “tactical.” A charming knife indeed.
The Dragonfly measures a scant 5 ½” inches from stem to stern, (in most versions) isn’t made of even remotely exotic materials, has a miniscule 2 ¼” blade, and isn’t designed by a trendy name in the knife industry. Why, then, has it widely been considered one of the best small EDC choices in the market for years? Simple: it does more with less. A lot less.
The Dragonfly is a case study in maximizing what you’ve got. Yeah, it’s a short blade, but it’s not wasted – the blade is full-flat ground with a pronounced swedge on the spine, for an ideal slicing and piercing shape. It’s got a full finger choil integrated into the tang and the bolster, allowing for a much more secure grip of what would otherwise feel like trying to squeeze the last little bit of toothpaste out with an oven mitt on. It’s tiny but it’s not half-baked. There are fully nested skeletonized stainless liners under the FRN scales, which feature Spyderco’s bi-directional texturing for added grip. It has an ambidextrous tip up deep-carry wire clip – the lightweight version only weighs 1.2 ounces. It gives you an actual ergonomic option in a market flooded with knives that feel like they were designed for children’s hands.
Standard steel is VG-10, nothing exotic, but there are also “Salt” versions that come with rust-proof H1 steel as well as a funky hawkbill variant. There are also stainless steel Dragonflies if you like additional weight, as well as a cool foliage green G10 version. The ones to go for if you’re really a knife nut: either the cool new Zome dyed Green FRN version, or the high-performance ZDP-189 model, with its extreme edge retention qualities. It received the coveted 20/20 Perfect rating from Everyday Commentary, a rarely bestowed mark from one of the most function-oriented EDC sites on the internet.
While sadly discontinued, here are some classics which you may find available on the secondary market.
The Slysz Bowie is the second production collaboration between the renowned Polish knifemaker and the Colorado brand, following the wildly popular Techno “little big knife” – with its diminutive 2.55” blade and beefy framelock build. The Slysz Bowie has a lot in common with the little Techno – mainly, its materials. The frame is titanium with a distressed stonewashed finish, with a stout framelock design. The blade is a dramatic clip point with a slight concave profile to the spine (thus the Bowie designation), full flat ground from high-performance CTS-XHP stainless steel.
Nice details abound on the Slysz Bowie. The spine of the blade, for instance, is rounded seamlessly past the transition from the thumb ramp all the way down to the tip, making it more comfortable to use when you’re choked up forward on it. The handles themselves look slab-sided but actually are contoured, rounded from top to bottom to make the knife more comfortable to use while filling the hand more ergonomically. The top of the blade sits relatively low in the handle when closed, but the show side has been cut away to open up access to the thumb hole, much like the Sebenza 21. In fact, the comparison is apt: the Slysz Bowie is probably the closest Spyderco has come to making their own version of Chris Reeve’s iconic do-everything high end folder. Sad news: it was recently announced that it’s on the discontinued list for 2018, so grab one while you still can. If you like Slysz’s designs but want something different, the SpydieChef is a compact folding kitchen knife-style design with LC200N steel.
The Nirvana is the proverbial cream of the crop for Spyderco. It pushes the boundaries between a production and a custom knife, and is by far the most expensive knife the brand has ever produced. Like the beloved Slysz Bowie above, it’s getting the ax for 2018 – rumor has it that Spyderco lost money on every one they sold, even at $740 MSRP. The Nirvana experienced more than its fair share of delays between debut and production, and some have made complaints that it’s prone to lock stick.
Ignore all that. All of it. Look at how glorious the Nirvana is. What a technical tour de force the team at the Taichung facility have created. The Peter Rassenti-designed Nirvana is based on his custom of the same name, and to be honest it wasn’t dumbed down much for production. The calling card here is integral construction: the handle is a milled from a single block of titanium, not screwed together from two or three pieces. On top of that they’ve CNC-machined a random geometric pattern that sort of looks like glass cracking, which wraps all the way around the handle itself. It’s wild and subtle at the same time.
The blade is no slouch either, being one of a handful of production knives made of CPM-S90V steel, an extremely hard powered alloy that’s notoriously hard to sharpen – experts only. Not that your average Joe would just stumble into owning a Nirvana. A stonewash finish gives the saber ground blade a smooth appearance. As mentioned, the Nirvana is on its way out for 2018 – but Rassenti may have another collaboration in the works in the near future.
What do you think? Did we miss your favorite Spyderco? Don’t hesitate to drop us a line.